By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The only Army officer to face a court-martial for the notorious detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was exonerated of mistreating detainees by a military jury yesterday, ending a series of prosecutions that stretched over more than three years.
The jury of nine colonels and a one-star general concluded that Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, 51, of Fredericksburg, Va., was not responsible for training or supervising soldiers who have been convicted of abusing detainees at the prison. Jordan was also cleared of charges that he personally abused prisoners, after prosecutors tried to link him to supervising the use of forced nudity and the use of military working dogs to intimidate detainees in interrogations in late 2003.
The only charge from the week-long trial at Fort Meade resulting in a conviction against Jordan was one count of willfully disobeying an order. Jordan was found to have contacted other soldiers about the Abu Ghraib investigation in 2004 after Maj. Gen. George Fay told him not to discuss it. It was the only criminal conviction secured against any officer as a result of the Abu Ghraib abuse, and it had nothing to do with the abuse itself.
The verdict means that no officer will serve prison time in connection with the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib, leaving the harshest punishment for low-ranking soldiers who were shown in the infamous photographs that emerged in early 2004. The following year, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, a military intelligence officer who ran Abu Ghraib, accepted an administrative punishment and a fine for inappropriately authorizing the use of dogs, and then-Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, a military police commander, received an administrative punishment and was demoted for leadership failures not directly linked to the abuse.
Although Jordan's case was expected to bring closure and accountability, his trial merely showed that the civil affairs reservist had no direct connection to the abuse and did not authorize harsh interrogation tactics. Instead of a referendum on the Abu Ghraib abuse or its origins, the case turned into an analysis of a single night's operation to find contraband and a debate over who was in charge. Jurors determined that Jordan was not and cleared him of three separate charges.
Left accountable for the abuse are 11 low-ranking soldiers who appeared in the photographs -- including images of detainees in hoods, wearing women's underwear on their heads, shackled in painful stress positions, piled naked in a pyramid, forced to simulate sexual acts, or with a leash around their necks. The images forced a reevaluation of Army interrogation and detention policies, sparked numerous military inquiries and led Congress to develop laws regarding the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.
"The images of Abu Ghraib are burned into our memories," said Maj. Kris Poppe, one of Jordan's defense attorneys, in his closing statement Monday. "We have in our memories the vile acts, criminal acts, of soldiers at night behind closed doors. . . . It is tempting to say some officer should be held accountable. But not this officer."
Prosecutors tried to paint Jordan as the officer in charge of the facility and one who should have done more to prevent abuse.
"This case is not about what the accused did at Abu Ghraib; it's about what he divorced himself from doing," Lt. Col. John P. Tracy told jurors on Monday, adding that Jordan created an atmosphere that led to abuse. "He didn't train; he didn't supervise; he didn't ensure compliance."
Human rights groups following the cases since 2004 said much remains to be done. "The military was not interested in pursuing real accountability," John Sifton, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said yesterday. "The only thing they've shown themselves committed to is putting the Abu Ghraib scandal behind them."
Elisa Massimino, Washington director of Human Rights First, said no criminal trial has delved into the chain of command or the development of harsh interrogation techniques, despite numerous military investigations. A lengthy Justice Department investigation has not yet led to charges against any civilian contract interrogators.
"This was the one that everyone was waiting for, and more than anything else, the trial and verdict in this case demonstrates that there is an enormous accountability gap left," Massimino said. "They have almost completely missed the real point."
Although there were brief mentions in Jordan's trial of connections between Abu Ghraib and the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, no criminal court has explored how or why interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo Bay migrated to Iraq. Detainees in the Abu Ghraib photographs appeared in situations that mirrored tactics used by senior interrogators on one of the most important detainees held at Guantanamo Bay after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Military police soldiers have said they were instructed in such techniques by interrogators and civilian contractors for use on Abu Ghraib's Tier 1A, where detainees of high intelligence value were held. Abuse also occurred there, and soldiers have received prison sentences for it, in the most serious case a 10-year term for Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr.
In an interview with The Washington Post last month, Jordan said that he had no connection to the abuse and that had he known it was occurring, he would have stopped it. Jordan has been forced to remain on active duty at Fort Belvoir for more than three years as he awaited court-martial. He has accused the Army of making him a scapegoat in order to put an officer on trial.
Jordan told the court yesterday that he respects the jury's decision. "After today, I hope the wounds of Abu Ghraib can start to heal," he said, the Associated Press reported.
The jury began deliberating on a sentence yesterday and will continue today. Jordan faces a maximum of five years in prison and dismissal for disobeying Fay.