THE MISBEGOTTEN effort to hold military officers accountable for the notorious abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison limped to a close last week when an Army lieutenant colonel was cleared by a court-martial jury of charges that he was responsible for the mistreatment of detainees. Steven L. Jordan, the only officer to be prosecuted for crimes that were documented in stomach-turning photographs and videotapes, probably never should have been charged. His week-long trial demonstrated that he had little or nothing to do with the harsh interrogation tactics and other abuse introduced at Abu Ghraib in late 2003. His prosecution was symptomatic of the Pentagon's perverse handling of Abu Ghraib: The most senior officer to be administratively sanctioned, an Army Reserve brigadier general, also had no role in carrying out the abuses.
There were certainly officers at Abu Ghraib overseeing interrogations of prisoners. There were other senior officers who drew up or approved methods -- such as the use of dogs to terrorize detainees -- that violated the Geneva Conventions and U.S. military codes. And there were civilian political appointees in the Pentagon, including then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who demanded more aggressive steps to collect intelligence from prisoners. Some have confessed to wrongdoing, such as Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who oversaw interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Some have dodged accountability, like Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, a former commander of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib who at one point invoked his right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying under oath. All have been excused from criminal charges, even while the low-ranking personnel who tortured Iraqi detainees -- in some cases under orders -- serve prison sentences.
The Pentagon's moves to protect guilty commanders while targeting their subordinates have been blatant. Col. Pappas, who confessed to approving the use of dogs in interrogations, was granted immunity from prosecution. He then testified against the soldiers who handled the dogs. Gen. Miller, who, according to sworn testimony by others, recommended that dogs be used at Abu Ghraib and sent "tiger teams" of Guantanamo interrogators to Iraq to train Abu Ghraib personnel, was allowed to retire a year ago. A general rejected the recommendation of a Pentagon investigator that Gen. Miller be sanctioned; the Army inspector general turned aside clear evidence that he lied to Congress and to military investigators.
More than a year ago a bipartisan group of senators from the Armed Services Committee charged in a letter that "the Army appears to be protecting MG Miller from being held accountable for his actions." The group, which included the committee's present chairman, Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), called for a hearing at which Gen. Miller would be required to answer questions about his behavior. The hearing has yet to be held. It's easy to understand why the Pentagon might want to protect senior officers responsible for Abu Ghraib. Congress's inaction has yet to be explained.