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Officer acquitted of mistreatment in Abu Ghraib case

Only higher-up at prison to have faced abuse trial

Army Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Jordan left court after his trial ended yesterday at Fort Meade, Md. Army Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Jordan left court after his trial ended yesterday at Fort Meade, Md. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WASHINGTON -- The only military officer to face trial for the abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison was acquitted yesterday of all charges of mistreatment of detainees. But after a weeklong trial, a military jury in Fort Meade, Md., found Army Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Jordan guilty of disobeying an order not to discuss a 2004 investigation into the allegations.

The jury of nine colonels and a one-star general deliberated for nearly seven hours over two days before concluding that Jordan should not be held responsible for failing to train and supervise interrogators and military police at the facility in 2003.

Jurors also determined that Jordan bears no responsibility for alleged abuses that occurred on Nov. 24, 2003, when a group of Iraqi police officers were strip-searched and dogs were used to search for contraband. The jurors apparently agreed with defense arguments that Jordan was not in charge of the effort or the military police soldiers at the prison.

Jordan's acquittal on three charges related to abuse exonerates him of any connection to the infamous photographs of naked detainees that emerged from the prison in early 2004. Defense attorneys argued that Jordan was not in charge of interrogations and had no connection to controversial interrogation policies that allowed the use of dogs and other harsh methods. Rather, they said, he served more as a "mayor" in charge of improving conditions for service members at the austere military base.

Jordan's exoneration on charges of mistreatment means that no officer will serve prison time in connection with the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib, leaving the harshest punishment for low-ranking soldiers who committed the abuse. Colonel Thomas M. Pappas, a military intelligence officer who ran Abu Ghraib, accepted an administrative punishment and a fine for inappropriately authorizing the use of dogs in interrogations, and then-Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who commanded military police, received an administrative punishment and was demoted.

Jordan's case also wraps up the numerous inquiries and investigations that began after photographs taken by military police at the prison became public. Detainees were hooded, put in painful stress positions, made to wear female underwear on their heads, and placed in simulated sexual positions while naked. Iconic images included a naked detainee with a leash around his neck and detainees cowering from unmuzzled dogs in the prison's hallways.

In an interview with The Washington Post last month, Jordan said he had no connection to the abuses and that, had he known they were occurring, he would have put a stop to them. Jordan, 51, an Army civil affairs reserve officer, has been forced to remain on active duty at Fort Belvoir for more than three years as he awaited court martial on the charges. He has accused the Army of making him a scapegoat in order to put an officer on trial.

Military prosecutors argued in a dozen previous cases that the abuse photographs were evidence of a few "rogue" military police soldiers who were acting on their own on the night shift in the prison's Tier 1A, where detainees deemed valuable to military intelligence interrogators were held. Those soldiers, shown in the photographs, were held responsible for the abuse and received sentences up to the 10-year prison term of Corporal Charles A. Graner Jr.

In Jordan's case, however, prosecutors tried to turn the argument on its head, telling jurors that Jordan, a military intelligence officer, created "an atmosphere" that led to the abuse and failed to properly train soldiers in appropriate use of new interrogation techniques. But prosecution witnesses, including the most senior officer who worked at the prison, said that Jordan held no such responsibilities.

The jury found Jordan guilty of one count of "willfully disobeying" a senior commissioned officer, determining that Jordan purposely made contact with other soldiers after Major General George Fay ordered him not to discuss his investigation in 2004. Jordan was found to have contacted a number of soldiers, asking them questions via e-mail, before passing their contact information to Fay and his investigative team.

That charge carries the heaviest penalty that Jordan faced: A possible total of five years in prison and dismissal from the Army. Jurors will next hear evidence in the sentencing phase of the trial.

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