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.
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 NEWS.com.au 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].
For his part, Jordan contends that he is innocent. Prior to his deployment at Abu Ghraib in 2003, he had no experience in overseeing a detention facility or carrying out interrogations. In a report of the abuse at Abu Ghraib, Jordan was described as focused on improving the day-to-day life of his subordinates and "ill-prepared to run the prison, and as a result was 'little involved in the interrogation operations,' " reports The Times, a London-based daily.
His title of "director" and precise responsibilities were never formally confirmed and a military investigation into the scandal said his commanders made a "critical error" in not replacing him within weeks of being given the job.
Instead, Colonel Jordan, who was sent to Abu Ghraib three days after arriving in Iraq, spent his time trying to improve the lives of his personnel, who were living in squalid conditions and coming under almost daily mortar attacks without the proper body armour. The Colonel was hit by shrapnel three days after arriving at the prison during an attack that killed two other men.
Already, 11 soldiers have been convicted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, reports the British Broadcasting Corp. Notably, Pvt. Lynndie England and Spc. Charles Graner Jr., who were both prominently featured in the abuse photos leaked to the media, were sentenced to three and 10 years in prison, respectively. The prison commander in Iraq at the time, Janis Karpinski, faced administrative action and was demoted from the rank of general but faced no criminal charges.
The BBC's Jamie Coomarasamy in Washington says that whatever the verdict in Lt-Col Jordan's trial, many will continue to believe that there are those far higher up the military and civilian chain of command who should answer for an episode that did such damage to the image of the US military.
Meanwhile, the American Psychological Association has adopted a new resolution that lists specific interrogation techniques that it denounces. The resolution comes months after it was revealed that psychologists had helped craft aggressive interrogation tactics after the Sept. 11 attacks for use by the military and intelligence agencies, reports Salon.com.
The APA has condemned torture in the past. But this year the organization was responding, in part, to intense internal pressure from some members who were angered by the Bush administration's permissive interpretation of prohibitions on abuse. The new resolution aims to be more precise and detailed, articulating "an absolute prohibition for psychologists against direct or indirect participation" in brutal interrogation methods, from mock executions to waterboarding.
"The APA came in line with the minimum of its responsibilities by condemning, in certain circumstances, the most egregious forms of torture being committed in our name," said Steven Reisner, a psychologist who has been pressing the organization to withdraw from detainee interrogations.