By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, the only officer to face trial over the Abu Ghraib detainee-abuse scandal, was issued a reprimand yesterday by a military jury, a punishment that spares him all prison time after he was convicted this week on one count of disobeying an order.
The jury could have sentenced Jordan to as much as five years in prison and ordered his dismissal from the Army. Instead, he received one of the lightest punishments available. Jordan was convicted for contacting other soldiers about the military's 2004 investigation into the Abu Ghraib abuse after he was ordered not to discuss it with anyone.
Originally accused of abuse and failing to supervise soldiers who committed abuse, Jordan was exonerated Tuesday on all charges related to the abuse of detainees, clearing him in a case that lasted more than three years.
Jordan had repeatedly asserted that he was not in charge of the facility and not responsible for the interrogation tactics used there. In an interview yesterday, Jordan said that he thinks the jury panel "did the fairest thing they could" and that he feels as though a "huge weight has been lifted" off of his shoulders.
"Today was a vindication for my family, myself, and all the professional soldiers and civilians at Abu Ghraib that did an outstanding duty in such an austere environment that was, in essence, undermanned, under-resourced and under constant attack," Jordan said in an interview yesterday. "For the first time since the spring of 2004, I have some idea of a clear future."
Jordan said he plans to stay in the Army as an active-duty officer while he weighs his options. He said yesterday that he wants to someday become a grade-school teacher. In an earlier interview, Jordan said he felt that the Army used him as a scapegoat in an effort to show that it had put at least one officer on trial for abuse, and he echoed those sentiments yesterday.
"When they're playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, that's a fun game until you're the donkey," Jordan said. "That's how I've felt these last 3 1/2 years, that I was the donkey."
The final military trial related to the notorious abuse at Abu Ghraib ended as a major victory for the defense team of Jordan, who at one time faced a potential sentence of 16 1/2 years. The final sentence was lighter than Jordan would have received under an administrative punishment that an investigating officer recommended to commanders late last year, which would have included a letter of reprimand and dismissal from the Army. Prosecutors had long suggested that the case be concluded as an administrative matter, but senior commanders ignored that advice and pushed ahead with a public court-martial.
Jordan's punishment is lighter than the administrative punishment received by Army Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who was the top officer at Abu Ghraib and who admitted inappropriately approving the use of dogs in interrogations. Pappas, who received immunity to testify in courts-martial related to Abu Ghraib, received a reprimand and an $8,000 fine.
A reprimand can be career-ending because it enters an officer's permanent military file, meaning that Jordan probably would have had trouble seeking a promotion to colonel, if he desired such a move. Jordan and his attorneys said they plan to file a clemency petition to Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe Jr., the commander of the Military District of Washington. The jury's verdict needs to be confirmed by Rowe, who can only lessen the punishment.
Different sets of prosecutors over the past three years have recommended not proceeding with a court-martial for Jordan, and it was evident during the weeklong trial why the lawyers had been hesitant to bring the case to court. Jordan did not appear in any of the photographs of abuse that surfaced in 2004, and no witnesses in the trial said that Jordan ordered the abuse, specifically knew about it or commanded the soldiers who were involved in it. The one charge that stuck was Jordan's violation of an order from Maj. Gen. George Fay not to discuss the abuse investigation, something Jordan has maintained he did by mistake.
Brig. Gen. Louis Weber, the president of the jury, said his impression from the trial was that Jordan is "a superb leader and officer." Referring to the abuse-related charges, he added: "From my perspective, the evidence that was presented didn't support the allegations."
Capt. Samuel Spitzberg, a member of Jordan's defense team, said Army commanders had expressed a desire to have a public airing of the Abu Ghraib charges, but he noted that the case against Jordan aired little about the prison or the abuse.
"For us it was never about Abu Ghraib; for us, it was about Lieutenant Colonel Jordan," Spitzberg said. "We are pleased with the result overall. It really is a vindication of his position throughout."