Pentagon Acquits Itself Well on Abu Ghraib

Lieutenant Colonel Steve Jordan's acquittal of charges in his court-martial over Abu Ghraib tortures should have been no surprise. Only a week ago, some of the most serious charges against Jordan — including that he lied — were dropped just before the court-martial began.

It didn't matter that the Abu Ghraib scandal — and its coverup — reached all the way up to the White House of Dick Cheney. Check out my August 22 piece, "Chains of Command," for links to the Washington Post series on Cheney and to great stuff by the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh.

The Post's Josh White reports today:

The jury of nine colonels and a one-star general concluded that Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, 51, of Fredericksburg, Va., was not responsible for training or supervising soldiers who have been convicted of abusing detainees at the prison. Jordan was also cleared of charges that he personally abused prisoners, after prosecutors tried to link him to supervising the use of forced nudity and the use of military working dogs to intimidate detainees in interrogations in late 2003.

What's curious is that White's story today doesn't at least mention the previous dropping of charges. After all, White's excellent August 21 story reported it:

Military prosecutors dropped two charges against Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan yesterday, hours before his court-martial for allegedly abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was set to begin at Fort Meade.

The dismissal of allegations that Jordan lied to investigators in the 2004 probe of the notorious abuses was a last-minute surprise in the military courtroom at the Maryland Army base. Based on new evidence that surfaced over the weekend, prosecutors determined that Jordan had not been read his rights before giving detailed statements to Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, who led the seminal investigation into the Abu Ghraib scandal. Those statements are therefore inadmissible in the proceedings. …

The development was a significant victory for Jordan's defense attorneys, who had been arguing for suppression of the statements. Jordan gave extensive statements to Fay outlining his role at Abu Ghraib and explaining specific incidents for which he has been criminally charged. In May, Henley also tossed out statements Jordan gave to Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, because Taguba also did not properly advise him of his rights. Now, none of Jordan's statements can be used against him.

White explained the situation quite well in his earlier story, just before the court-martial trial began:

Fay's failure to read Jordan his rights appears to be a major oversight in the probe, and prosecutors did not explain the discrepancy. The move reduces Jordan's potential sentence almost by half, to a maximum of 8 1/2 years.

It was the latest in a series of odd twists in Jordan's case. Prosecutors have recommended for years that Jordan face administrative punishment rather than trial. An investigative officer once advocated a reprimand to avoid a public rehashing of the Abu Ghraib abuses. And emerging evidence has now led to the dismissal of eight out of 12 original charges against the Army officer. Jordan said in a recent interview with The Washington Post that he believes he is a scapegoat because authorities want an officer to go to trial as a final chapter in the Abu Ghraib scandal, even though a more senior officer who admitted approving the use of dogs, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, received only a reprimand and a fine.

Jordan, 51, is the last soldier to face charges related to the Abu Ghraib abuses and the only officer to go to court-martial for alleged crimes there. A jury panel of nine Army colonels and one brigadier general is expected to hear opening statements in the case today, and yesterday each member told the court — under questioning by Capt. Samuel Spitzberg, one of Jordan's defense attorneys — that they would not use Jordan's trial as "a referendum on Abu Ghraib."

In any case, don't let Abu Ghraib slip down the memory hole. We've known for a long time that the genesis of the abuse was in D.C., that it was a rogue presidency, not just rogue soldiers. Read Hersh's June story on Taguba and Taguba's own 2004 report.

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