The head of the interrogation center at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq told an Army investigator in February that he understood some of the information being collected from prisoners there had been requested by "White House staff," according to an account of his statement obtained by The Washington Post.
Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, an Army reservist who took control of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center on Sept. 17, 2003, said a superior military intelligence officer told him the requested information concerned "any anti-coalition issues, foreign fighters, and terrorist issues."
The Army investigator, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, asked Jordan whether it concerned "sensitive issues," and Jordan said, "Very sensitive. Yes, sir," according to the account, which was provided by a government official.
The reference by Jordan to a White House link with the military's scandal-plagued intelligence-gathering effort at the prison was not explored further by Taguba, whose primary goal at that time was to assess the scope of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. The White House was unable to provide an immediate explanation.
During the period in question, the last quarter of 2003, virtually every senior military officer in Iraq, as well as at the Pentagon, was intensely interested in determining who was behind the rising insurgency in Iraq and using that information to squelch it. But no reference has previously been made in the publicly available Abu Ghraib investigative documents to a special interest by White House staff.
The precise role and mission of Jordan, who is still stationed in Iraq and through his attorneys has declined requests to speak with the news media, remains one of the least well understood facets of the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal.
Jordan has been described by other military personnel as playing a key role at Abu Ghraib in overseeing interrogations; they have described him as being deeply involved in an incident on Nov. 24, 2003, when a detainee was confronted in his cell by snarling military dogs, which Taguba deemed a violation of the prisoner's rights.
In a March 9 report on the abuse scandal, Taguba listed Jordan as one of four military intelligence officers he suspected were "directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib." He also said Jordan had "failed to ensure that soldiers under his direct control were properly trained" in interrogation techniques and were aware of Geneva Conventions human rights protections for detainees.
Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the chief military intelligence officer at the prison, said in his statement to Taguba that Jordan was working on a special project for the office of Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top U.S. intelligence official in Iraq. He also described Jordan as "a loner who freelances between military intelligence and military police" officers at the prison.
Asserting that Jordan repeatedly took part in searches of detainee cells without notifying military police commanders -- an activity that fell outside the customary duties of an intelligence officer -- he also told Taguba that "I must admit I failed in not reining him in."
But Jordan, in the statement to Taguba, described himself as more of a functionary than a rogue operator. He said that Pappas was really in charge, as evidenced by the fact that he was not responsible for rating other military intelligence officers in reports to superiors and "had no input . . . no responsibility . . . no resources" under his control. He said he was just a "liaison" between Fast and those collecting intelligence at the prison.
"My direction when it came to the [center] . . . was to set up a structure [of] target folders on individuals," he said, evidently referring to specific detainees. He said he was aware of the "rules of engagement" approved by commanders for interrogations, which have been a topic of controversy. But the rules changed several times, and he did not clarify which set he relied on.
Pappas, he said, was the officer who approved lengthy sleep deprivation or keeping detainees in isolation for more than 30 days. He also said that an "OGA" team -- or Other Government Agency, a euphemism for the CIA -- known as Task Force 121 had caused problems by bringing detainees they had captured to Abu Ghraib and essentially dumping them without conducting any follow-up. "It's a very cowboy kind of affair," he said of Task Force 121.
Some of Jordan's statements to Taguba were not consistent. He said at one point, for example, that "I can never remember seeing an actual interrogation going on at this site." But then he admitted being present during questioning of a detainee in the prison's shower stalls before the use of guard dogs on Nov. 24. One of his civilian attorneys, John Shapiro, described Jordan last night as "a fine soldier who was serving his country and is cooperating in every way with the investigations" into the abuse.