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First court-martial for an officer in Abu Ghraib scandal gets under way

Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan's case may shed light on whether the grave mistreatment of detainees was the result of poorly trained soldiers' behavior or directives from higher up.

By / August 21, 2007

For the first time since news of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal broke three years ago, an officer faces a court-martial for abuse of prisoners. Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan's case may shed light on whether the grave mistreatment of detainees at the Baghdad facility, documented by a series of gruesome photographs, was an anomaly confined to a group of ill-trained soldiers or if it represented a policy that was driven from the top.

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Within the first minutes of Monday's court proceeding, two key charges against Colonel Jordan – lying under oath and making false statements – were dropped due to a legal technicality. The dismissal of these charges shaved seven years off Jordan's potential jail sentence. The most serious charges, that he abused detainees, threatened them with dogs, demanded that they pose in humiliating positions while naked, and failed to train and supervise soldiers at the prison remain. If convicted, he can face up to 8-1/2 years in prison, reports The Baltimore Sun.

The court-martial, which opened yesterday in hushed tones inside a low brick building at Fort Meade, Maryland, is expected to last several weeks. The prosecution has listed 17 witnesses it plans to call to detail the charges against Jordan, a heavyset man who sat stolidly at the defense table.
Prosecutors also agreed yesterday to narrow one set of charges against Jordan, that he abused Iraqi detainees in a pattern of violations over a three-month period in the fall of 2003. Instead, they specified that the alleged abuse took place on one occasion, Nov. 24.

Jordan, a reservist and the only officer to face a court-martial for the Abu Ghraib incident, has alleged that he is being made into a "scapegoat," reports The Washington Post. Initially charged on 12 separate counts, eight of the charges against Jordan have already been dismissed. Additionally, prosecutors have long recommended that Jordan face administrative action for his role, rather than a trial.

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."

During the jury selection process, the Australian digital news service reports that the defense attorneys made a point of ensuring that potential jurors would not be inclined to pass political judgment on the case, but rather would focus on solely the facts.

"Do you believe there is a difference between wrong and illegal," [Jordan's lawyer Captain Samuel Spitzberg] asked [potential jurors].