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Army officer acquitted of most Abu Ghraib charges

The Baltimore Sun

In the final criminal prosecution for the abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison, an Army officer was acquitted yesterday of all charges directly related to the prison abuse.

After a four-day court-martial at Fort Meade, a jury of nine Army colonels and a brigadier general convicted Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, 51, of a single technical violation for disobeying a general's order not to discuss the case as it mushroomed into an international scandal in spring 2004.

Although that charge carries a potential prison sentence of five years, the prosecution recommended that the Army Reserve officer be reprimanded and fined one month's salary, about $7,400. He is expected to be sentenced today.

Of all the officers implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Army chose to prosecute only Jordan, who was the senior officer present at the prison but who was not formally in command of any soldiers.

No other prosecutions related to Abu Ghraib are pending in either military or civilian courts.

The Abu Ghraib scandal, fueled by photographs of sexual humiliation and physical abuse of Iraqi detainees, ignited a worldwide uproar barely a year after the Iraq war began.

The haunting images of hooded inmates chained naked and kneeling are still used by al-Qaida and other Islamist groups as powerful evidence of what they allege is a Western war against Islam.

"After today, I hope the wounds of Abu Ghraib will start to heal," Jordan, his voice choked with tears, told the jury yesterday after the verdict.

In the 12 criminal prosecutions of military personnel for abuse, critics said, the accountability of more senior military authorities, including commanders in Iraq and senior officers and Pentagon officials in Washington, went largely unexamined.

"There's been very little accounting at any level," said Diane Marie Amann, a visiting professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley and an expert on military jurisprudence.

"There were officers at higher rank implicated in the events at Abu Ghraib, and many of them were never subjected to any kind of proceeding within the military justice system," she said. "Civilian officials have not been held to any accountability, and that's very troubling."

Abu Ghraib is ending "with a whimper," said Victor M. Hansen, a retired military lawyer who was deeply involved in the Army's investigations of abuses at the prison.

"We ought to have a standard with which to evaluate the conduct of commanders - and we don't," he said. The Uniform Code of Military Justice does not encompass the doctrine of "command responsibility," he said, which U.S. military prosecutors used in war crime trials after World War II.

"We don't have a way to prosecute officers as fully as we should," said Hansen, an associate professor at the New England School of Law in Boston. Prosecutions such as the Jordan court-martial "don't get to the main point: Who is responsible?"

Most senior officers in command when the detainee abuses took place have been allowed to quietly retire or have received administrative punishment.

Eleven enlisted soldiers have been convicted of criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib. The most senior, former Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr. of the 372nd Military Police Company from Western Maryland, received the longest sentence so far, 10 years.

Two officers, Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, a military police commander, and Col. Thomas Pappas, commander of a military intelligence brigade, were relieved of command and reprimanded for their roles at the prison. Karpinski was reduced in rank to colonel, and Pappas was fined $8,000.

The International Red Cross found "serious violations of international law" in the abuses at Abu Ghraib, but no one has been prosecuted under international law.

Jordan's court-martial, attended by a dwindling handful of journalists and soldiers, turned on narrow legal points. Eight of the original 12 charges against him were dismissed on technicalities before the jurors were seated.

"This case is not a referendum on Abu Ghraib," Capt. Samuel Spitzberg, a member of Jordan's defense team, repeatedly told the jury.

Jordan was acquitted of charges that included dereliction of duty, subjecting detainees to forced nudity and intimidation with military dogs, and failing to secure permission to allow U.S. soldiers to use aggressive interrogation techniques.

But the jury found him guilty of having e-mailed Abu Ghraib witnesses after being told by a senior Army investigator, Maj. Gen. George Fay, not to discuss the case with anyone. Jordan's defense counsel had argued that Jordan was merely trying to assist the investigation. The jury decided otherwise.

Jordan, a former enlisted soldier, rose to become an officer in intelligence and later civil affairs. In that capacity he volunteered for Iraq, but he was sent to oversee the fast-growing U.S. interrogation center at Abu Ghraib even though he had no experience in interrogations or police operations. He did not command either the military police or the military intelligence troops at the prison.

Throughout 3 1/2 days of testimony, Jordan sat motionless at the defense table, a photograph of his three children propped against a plastic cup.

He did not testify. He had said previously that he felt he was being made a scapegoat for abuses committed and condoned by others.

In a brief and emotional statement after the verdict, Jordan said he was proud to be a member of the Army and was "shocked and sad" when he saw the Abu Ghraib photographs.

"It did not represent the United States soldiers I know and love," he said. "I deeply, deeply regret the pain this has caused for my loved ones."

Much of the trial pivoted on whether Jordan was technically in charge of military police and interrogators at the prison. Prosecutors asserted that even though Jordan was not in the official chain of command, he was the senior officer at the prison and should be held accountable for what was occurring there.

A prison notorious for torture and executions under Saddam Hussein, Abu Ghraib had been looted and heavily damaged after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. By that summer, the prison compound, in the violent Sunni triangle, was taking regular mortar and rocket fire from insurgents.

At the compound, U.S. soldiers were living in filthy conditions and sleeping in tents with no protection against blast fragments, officers testified during Jordan's trial. In one attack, shortly after Jordan arrived in August 2003, two soldiers were killed and the colonel suffered a shrapnel wound to the chest.

That fall, as the insurgency strengthened and U.S. casualties in Iraq rose, there was increased pressure from the U.S. command to find and punish those responsible as well as growing demands that interrogators produce "actionable" leads. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, issued new guidelines that allowed more aggressive interrogation techniques under certain conditions.

But as Abu Ghraib's detainee population soared toward 7,000, there was a severe shortage of military police at the prison. The Pentagon had underestimated the number of detainees, and several military police units that had been prepared to deploy to Iraq were instead told to go home, an internal Army report said, leaving the prison badly undermanned.

During this period, detainees were sexually humiliated, stripped, beaten, chained and deprived of sleep. According to a subsequent investigation by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, what took place were "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses ... systematic and illegal abuse."

The case against Jordan wasn't what he had done, but what he had "divorced himself from doing," argued the chief prosecutor, Lt. Col. John P. Tracy.

"His mission was to supervise human intelligence collecting. He failed to do that," Tracy said, adding that Jordan "contributed to" a loose environment in which the abuses took place.

But the defense argued successfully that the military police and interrogators at Abu Ghraib each had their own chain of command responsible for training and supervising their work.

The abuses took place "at night and behind closed doors," in a cell block controlled by military police, argued Maj. Kris Poppe, the lead defense counsel.

"The images of Abu Ghraib are burned into our memories," Poppe said. "It is tempting to say that some officers must bear fundamental responsibility ... but not this officer."

david.wood@baltsun.com

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