WASHINGTON -- Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, who was court-martialed at Fort Meade in August for his role in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, has been cleared of his sole criminal conviction, leaving only an official reprimand for the former commander of the notorious Iraqi prison.
The action, taken Wednesday by Army Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe, commander of the Military District of Washington, eliminates the only criminal finding against any officer for the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Rowe's decision prompted complaints that the military justice system is incapable of holding senior officers accountable for the actions of their subordinates.
The scandal broke in early 2004 with the publication of photographs of hooded prisoners chained naked or standing with outstretched arms and forced into sexually humiliating poses with American soldiers.
The senior Army officers in Iraq at the time were allowed to quietly retire or receive administrative punishment.
Jordan was originally charged with a range of offenses that could have earned him more than 16 years in prison.
But eight of the 12 charges were dropped even before the court-martial began. After three days, a jury of 10 Army officers acquitted Jordan 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.
He was convicted of one criminal count of disobeying a superior officer's order not to discuss the case against him with potential witnesses.
In a brief statement yesterday, the Military District of Washington, which oversees Rowe's office, said that his decision to disapprove that finding was "a fair and appropriate disposition of the matter."
During the trial, Jordan's lawyers argued that he had abused no one, and that he had no direct command authority over the military police and the interrogators at the prison, even though he was the senior officer present. The jury, in dismissing the charge of dereliction of duty, agreed that the soldiers who committed the abuses were technically under the command of other officers who were absent much of the time.
The top U.S. commander in Iraq at the time, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, was cleared by Army investigators and allowed to retire. The top military police commander, Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, and the commander of the interrogators, Col. Thomas Pappas, were relieved of command and reprimanded. Karpinski was reduced in rank to colonel, and Pappas was fined $8,000.
Eleven enlisted soldiers were convicted of criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib, including former Cpl. Charles A. Graner of the 372nd Military Police Company of Western Maryland, who is serving a 10-year sentence.
"This was a failed prosecution all the way through," said Victor M. Hansen, a former military lawyer who was deeply involved in the Army's investigations of Abu Ghraib.
He said the larger problem is the military's unwillingness to apply the concept of command accountability to its officers, as it did to German and Japanese officers after World War II.
"We have been unwilling to apply that in a clear and precise way" against American officers, he said.