Army officer acquitted of most Abu Ghraib charges

Jury finds colonel guilty of disobeying order but not abuse

August 29, 2007|By David Wood | David Wood,Sun reporter

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.

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