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Humiliation at Abu Ghraib, and Then at the Prosecution Table

Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, whom the military decided to prosecute  --  though not very effectively so far.
Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, whom the military decided to prosecute -- though not very effectively so far. (By Steve Ruark -- Associated Press)

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By Dana Milbank
Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Don't speak," the judge advised a prosecution lawyer at one point yesterday during the court-martial of the lone officer charged in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

It was good advice.

The more prosecutors and prosecution witnesses speak in the trial of Army Lt. Col. Steven Jordan at Fort Meade this week, the better Jordan's defense looks.

"To the best of my knowledge, [Jordan] had nothing to do with interrogations," testified Staff Sgt. James Beachner -- and he was a prosecution witness.

Pvt. Chip Frederick testified, also (ostensibly) for the prosecution, that Jordan "had nothing to do with those detainees being abused."

"I never saw Lieutenant Colonel Jordan sign off on anything," testified yet another prosecution witness, Sgt. Michael Eckroth, who described Jordan as a good leader who was "trying to get something done to improve our less-than-austere conditions."

With a prosecution like this, who needs a defense?

This may explain why military prosecutors opposed the decision by top brass to bring Jordan to a court-martial in the first place.

Unable or unwilling to find a higher-ranking officer to prosecute, the generals who ordered the charges against Jordan would have had a big PR problem if they hadn't brought any officer before a court-martial for the Abu Ghraib abuse. A higher-ranking officer from the prison in Iraq, Col. Thomas Pappas, ended up with a reprimand and a fine, though he admitted approving the use of dogs in interrogations.

But the 51-year-old Jordan, portly and bespectacled, wasn't an ideal choice: He isn't in the infamous photographs from Abu Ghraib, and he had nothing to do with interrogations there; the most serious surviving charge against him is that he spoke about the investigation after being ordered not to -- and even that unraveled in court yesterday.

The judge, Col. Stephen Henley, clearly wasn't impressed with the prosecution. He made an eye-rolling gesture as he overruled one prosecutor, Lt. Col. John Tracy; Henley reminded Tracy that the source of his objection was something that Tracy himself had introduced into the record. He interrupted the prosecutors' legal arguments with complaints of "Stop, stop" and "Just give it to her."

At one point, Maj. Jon Pavlovcak, another prosecutor, handed an exhibit to the jurors but then quickly took back the copies after realizing he had attached information not meant for the jury. "Trying to save paper?" Henley inquired.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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