BALTIMORE (AP) – The revelation that the Army threw out the conviction of the only officer court-martialed in the Abu Ghraib scandal renewed outrage from human rights advocates who complained that not enough military and civilian leaders were held accountable for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
Those critics found an unlikely ally in the officer himself, Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, whose conviction on a minor charge of disobeying an order was dismissed this week, leaving him with only an administrative reprimand.
Jordan told The Associated Press on Thursday he believes many officers and enlisted soldiers did not face adequate scrutiny in the investigation that led to convictions against 11 soldiers, none with a rank higher than staff sergeant. He said the probe was “not complete” and that a link between abusive interrogations at Abu Ghraib and in military prisons at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan was not adequately established.
If rough interrogation techniques were taught to the soldiers who abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Jordan said, “the question at that point is, who’s responsible for that? Is it Donald Rumsfeld? (Lt.) Gen. (Ricardo) Sanchez? … I don’t know.”
Barring any startling new information, the decision by Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe, commander of the Military District of Washington, to throw out Jordan’s conviction brings an end to the four-year Abu Ghraib investigation. And it means no officers or civilian leaders will be held criminally responsible for the prisoner abuse that embarrassed the U.S. military and inflamed the Muslim world.
Jordan, 51, a reservist from Fredericksburg, Virginia, was acquitted at his court-martial in August of all charges directly relating to prisoner abuse. He had been accused of failing to supervise the 11 lower-ranking soldiers convicted for their roles in the abuse, which included the photographing of Iraqi prisoners in painful and sexually humiliating positions.
The conviction stemmed from disobeying an order not to talk about the investigation. Jordan acknowledged e-mailing a number of soldiers about the probe, though he claims the order was not made clear to him until after he sent the e-mails.
Maj. Kris Poppe, Jordan’s attorney, said he argued that Jordan “faced these very serious charges for a long period of time, that he had been found not guilty of any offense related to the abuse of detainees, and that he had a stellar record.” Rowe agreed.
“In light of the nature of the offense that Jordan had been found guilty of committing and the substantial evidence in mitigation at trial and in post-trial matters submitted by defense counsel, Rowe determined that an administrative reprimand was a fair and appropriate disposition of the matter,” Joanna P. Hawkins, a military spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Eugene R. Fidell, a Washington lawyer who specializes in military law, said the decision was not surprising. If disobeying an order had been the only charge against Jordan, the matter almost certainly would not have gone to court-martial, Fidell said.
Human rights advocates complained that the case did not go higher up the chain of command and said the decision sent a troubling message.
“It could not be more clear that prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted from policies and practices authorized by high-level officials, including military and civilian leaders,” said Hira Shamsi, an attorney with the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Although the abuse was systemic and widespread, the accountability for it has been anything but.”
Mila Rosenthal, deputy executive director for research and policy for Amnesty International USA, said: “I think we’re emboldening dictators and despots around the world. We’re saying that it’s OK to allow these kinds of abuses to flourish.”
Jordan doesn’t dispute the deplorable nature of the abuse but maintains he was never aware of it. He said he planned to write a book about his experiences serving at Abu Ghraib and his protracted effort to clear his name. “It’s been a unique ordeal,” he said. “I still love the Army, you know? I love being a soldier. I love being around soldiers, and there were just some folks in the Army, I feel, that had maybe political motives to go after Steve Jordan as a reservist.”
Jordan, who remains on active duty at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, joins four other officers who received administrative, or non-criminal, punishment in the scandal.