BALTIMORE - The Army has thrown out the conviction of the only officer court-martialed in the Abu Ghraib scandal, bringing an end to the four-year investigation and drawing allegations of a Pentagon whitewash from human rights activists.
Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Jordan was cleared this week of any criminal wrongdoing by Major General Richard J. Rowe, commander of the Military District of Washington.
Jordan was given an administrative reprimand, a blot on his record.
Barring any startling new information, the decision means no officers or civilian leaders will be held criminally responsible for the prisoner abuse that embarrassed the US military and inflamed the Muslim world.
Jordan, 51, of Fredericksburg, Va., was acquitted at his court-martial in August of charges he failed 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.
But he was found guilty of disobeying an order not to talk about the investigation, and the jury recommended a criminal reprimand, the lightest possible punishment. Jordan acknowledged e-mailing a number of soldiers about the investigation, despite an order not to discuss the case.
Major Kris Poppe, Jordan's lawyer, 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."
"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 a court-martial, Fidell said.
But human rights advocates said the case did not go higher up the chain of command and 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, a lawyer 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 said yesterday that he felt victimized by the media, which he said seemed eager for an officer to be blamed. He also said he agreed that there were both enlisted soldiers and officers responsible for the abuse who escaped prosecution.
"Everybody that's seen all the evidence and looked at it, or the lack of it, realizes that Steve Jordan had nothing to do with abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib," Jordan said.
Jordan, who remains on active duty at Fort Belvoir, Va., said he planned to write a book about serving at Abu Ghraib and his efforts to clear his name.
"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," he said.
Jordan joins four other officers who received administrative, or noncriminal, punishment in the scandal, including Janis Karpinski, a former brigadier general who was in charge of all US-run prisons in Iraq. She was demoted to colonel.
The military found that criminal responsibility for the abuse of prisoners did not rise above Staff Sergeant Ivan L. Frederick, a military policeman who was paroled in October after serving about three years of an eight-year sentence.
The only soldier still behind bars for crimes at Abu Ghraib is Charles Graner Jr., a former corporal who received a 10-year sentence for assault, battery, conspiracy, maltreatment, indecent acts, and dereliction of duty.