The highest-ranking American soldier and first officer to be charged with crimes at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq knew about and failed to halt sexual and physical abuse of Iraqi prisoners, and told investigators that some prisoners were naked simply because of a "lack of clothing," a senior Army investigator said yesterday at a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade.
The 12 charges against Army Reserve Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, former head of the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib, include subjecting Iraqi prisoners to forced nudity and to intimidation by military dogs, failing to properly train and supervise interrogators, and lying to investigators about his knowledge of prisoner abuse.
The 50-year-old officer is also charged with disobeying orders not to talk to other Abu Ghraib witnesses and other violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Jordan, who could be sentenced to 41 years in prison if found guilty on all charges, faced his accusers here in a hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant a general court-martial. That decision will be made by Maj. Gen. Guy C. Swan, commander of the Military District of Washington.
Jordan did not testify.
Coming three years after the abuses began at Abu Ghraib, the legal proceedings against Jordan reach the highest into the command structure that was in place in Iraq in the chaotic months after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime.
The detainee abuse scandal, which broke into public view in April 2004, ignited outrage across Iraq and around the world, setting the stage for the intensifying violence in Iraq that this month has claimed the lives of 708 Iraqi civilians and 58 U.S. military personnel.
During two hours of testimony yesterday, Army Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, a career intelligence officer who conducted a five-month investigation in 2004 into the abuse of prisoners, described a situation of "chaos" and "confusion" at the prison complex because there had been no planning for post-war detainee operations and no clear chain of command was in place.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis were being swept up off the streets as the anti-American insurgency grew in late summer and fall 2003, Fay said, and prisoners - including criminals, women, teenagers and the mentally ill - were being crammed into the prison complex, where poorly trained U.S. military police and interrogators were struggling with unclear orders and an ad hoc command system.
"There was a lot of confusion," Fay testified. "People made up their titles as they went along."
The failure by officials in Washington and Iraq to anticipate the problem of detainees was "a fatal flaw," Fay said. There was no plan, he said. "There should have been."
The overall U.S. commander in Iraq at the time of the Abu Ghraib abuses, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, was cleared by Army investigations.
Other U.S. officers punished in the abuses were not charged with criminal violations. Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who commanded the military intelligence brigade based at Abu Ghraib, was fined $8,000 and reprimanded. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who led the military police brigade there, was demoted to colonel.
In all, Army investigators have looked into 601 cases of alleged detainee abuses, Army officials said yesterday. Ninety-two U.S. soldiers have been convicted at court-martial, 112 have received nonjudicial punishment and 104 cases have been handled administratively, usually with a letter of reprimand.
Of those, Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick, an Army reservist from Virginia, has been the highest-ranking soldier to receive punishment. He pleaded guilty to some of the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib, including attaching wires to a detainee and forcing him to stand hooded on a box, and forcing naked detainees to form a pyramid, photographing both acts in images that aroused worldwide condemnation.
Former Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr. is serving the longest prison sentence handed out so far, a 10-year term.
Frederick, who is serving an eight-year sentence, is scheduled to testify by telephone at Jordan's pretrial hearing this week.
Despite Jordan's role in overseeing Abu Ghraib's Joint Interrogation Debriefing Center, the colonel denied any knowledge of the abuses, Fay testified yesterday.
"I asked him about abuses and the photographs and whether he knew or saw anything," Fay said in sworn testimony. "He said he did not see or participate in any of the abuses." Fay said Jordan acknowledged that some prisoners were naked but insisted that had nothing to do with intimidating or humiliating them. It was simply for "lack of clothing," he said Jordan told him.
Under cross-examination by Jordan's military defense lawyers, Fay said Jordan had been wounded in a mortar attack on the prison compound in September 2003 that killed two soldiers under his command. Fay said Jordan "was still traumatized" when he interviewed him almost six months later.
Investigators said Jordan played a central role in an incident known as the Iraqi police roundup, which occurred when a prisoner was found to have a 9 mm pistol and was wounded in a tussle with U.S. military police. After that, Jordan allegedly led a tumultuous roundup of Iraqi police guards in the prison compound and ordered a Navy dog handler to participate. Under the doctrine at the time, use of military dogs required the permission of General Sanchez, according to the charges against Jordan.
Testimony in the case will continue today.