Court-martial of officer at Abu Ghraib begins

The Baltimore Sun

In the first court-martial of a senior officer for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, a military judge dismissed on a technicality yesterday charges that Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, second-in-command at the prison, lied to his superiors to cover up his role in the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners.

Of the original 12 charges or specifications against Jordan, 51, the most serious remain: that in October 2003 he abused detainees with forced nudity and intimidation by military working dogs, that he failed to follow orders on interrogation techniques, and that he was derelict in his duties by failing to train and supervise soldiers at the prison.

He faces 8 1/2 years in prison if convicted on all counts. The charges that were dismissed carried a total of seven years additional time in prison.

Jordan, of Fredericksburg, Va., was mobilized in March 2003 as a civil affairs officer and assigned to Abu Ghraib prison under Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who led the military intelligence brigade at the prison.

Two years ago, Pappas was relieved of command, fined $8,000 and given a letter of reprimand.

The charges of lying were dismissed by the chief trial judge, Col. Stephen R. Henley, minutes after the court-martial proceedings opened.

Read his rights

Henley granted a defense motion to dismiss the charges because Jordan had not been read his rights by Maj. Gen. George Fay, the officer who interrogated him about the prison abuses in April 2004.

Fay testified last spring that he believed he had advised Jordan of his right to remain silent and to have access to a lawyer. On reviewing the transcript Saturday night, however, "his memory was jogged" and he realized he might not have read Jordan his rights after all, said Lt. Col. Patricia H. Lewis, an Army lawyer and spokesman for the court.

Maj. Kris Poppe, one of Jordan's defense lawyers, said the defense had learned of the development Sunday night. "It was something we'd been asking the court for a long time ago," he said.

Poppe declined to speculate on how the dismissal of the two charges, based on Fay's testimony, would affect the rest of the trial.

"We believe it was an appropriate result," he said of the dismissal of those charges.

The court-martial, which opened yesterday in hushed tones inside a low brick building at Fort Meade, is expected to last several weeks. The prosecution has listed 17 witnesses it plans to call to detail the charges against Jordan, a heavyset man who sat stolidly at the defense table.

Prosecutors also agreed yesterday to narrow one set of charges against Jordan, that he abused Iraqi detainees in a pattern of violations over a three-month period in the fall of 2003.

Instead, they specified that the alleged abuse took place on one occasion, Nov. 24.

No other officers have been prosecuted for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, an Iraqi prison that became notorious under Saddam Hussein for widespread torture.

U.S. military authorities took over the prison in 2003 as attacks on U.S. forces accelerated, and troops began detaining tens of thousands of Iraqis in increasingly frantic efforts to crack down on the spreading insurgency. By October 2003, the prison was crammed with 7,000 detainees guarded by 90 military police.

Since then 11 enlisted soldiers, none over the rank of staff sergeant, have been convicted for the abuse of prisoners that included chaining them together naked, photographing them in suggestive poses and threatening them with guard dogs.

Pappas and Army Brig Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the military police brigade who oversaw operations at Abu Ghraib, received only administrative punishment. Karpinski was demoted to colonel and received a letter of reprimand.

One of several subsequent Defense Department investigations found that ultimate command responsibility for the scandal went "all the way ... to the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

The 2004 report, by a panel chaired by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, said there was a "tangled" command structure at the prison and "confusing and unusual assignment of command responsibilities."

In findings that reflect Jordan's defense, the Schlesinger panel found a "failure to plan" for problems at the prison, which the panel described as being "seriously overcrowded, under-resourced and under continual attack."

Jurors questioned

During examination of potential jurors yesterday, defense attorney Capt. Samuel Spitzberg asked members of the jury pool - made up of 18 Army colonels and a brigadier general - a series of questions that seemed to hint at the defense strategy.

He got all potential jurors to agree that a verbal command could be misinterpreted. All nodded when asked whether they had personal experience with mis-heard verbal orders.

One minor charge alleges that Jordan disobeyed an order from Maj. Gen. Fay not to discuss the Abu Ghraib investigation with outsiders.

Under questioning, most of the potential jurors said they were aware that only enlisted soldiers have been convicted for Abu Ghraib abuses and they agreed that the court proceeding is "not a referendum" on the prison abuse scandal.

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