WASHINGTON -- A military judge dismissed yesterday allegations that a top general improperly steered the investigation against the highest-ranking American soldier - and only officer - charged with a crime in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
The ruling clears the way for the Army to try Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, a 51-year-old reservist from Virginia who ran the interrogation center at the Iraqi prison, for failing to exert his authority as soldiers abused detainees. Seven lower-ranking military police officers, including some from Maryland-based units, have been convicted in trials that exposed how U.S. soldiers in Iraq stripped prisoners naked, photographed them in outrageous poses and threatened them with police dogs.
Jordan's court-martial is set for Aug. 20 and is expected to last about two weeks.
During a 90-minute, pre-trial hearing yesterday at Fort McNair, Jordan's attorneys argued that Maj. Gen. Guy C. Swann III, former commander of the Military District of Washington, might have inappropriately pressured Col. Thomas A. Allmon, who reviewed the investigation.
Court documents show that Allmon initially recommended that Jordan's case proceed through a nonjudicial disciplinary process rather than a criminal trial to determine his role in running the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib.
"Although this case demonstrates that there was a clear breakdown in leadership at Abu Ghraib, the Article 32 investigation has provided a public airing of the offenses and a record of our Army's disgust with our unprofessional and unwarranted actions," Allmon wrote in a Dec. 1 memo. "A court-martial will continue to resurrect these actions to our nation's public and add great fiscal cost to our government to conduct these proceedings."
Allmon abruptly changed his mind a month later. The colonel testified yesterday that his change of heart came because he now believes that the Army and the nation deserve to see Jordan tried by a jury of his peers.
But defense attorney Capt. Samuel Spitzberg told the presiding judge that a witness had seen Swann tell Allmon that he wanted to talk to the colonel "off-line" about his recommendation - an indication that the general had tried to influence his subordinate, which Spitzberg called "just wrong."
Col. Stephen R. Henley, the presiding judge, rejected the defense argument without comment.
Military prosecutors charged Jordan in April 2006 with 12 offenses, but six have been dismissed. The remaining charges, including failure to obey an order or regulation, cruelty and maltreatment, and false swearing and obstruction of justice, carry a maximum penalty of 16 1/2 years in prison.