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Abu Ghraib officer waits on court-martial ruling

Only one officer faces criminal charges in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Lt. Col. Steven Lee Jordan is awaiting a decision any day now on whether he will be court-martialed.
Steven Jordan, Samuel Spitzberg
Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, the former head of the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, left, with legal counsel Capt. Samuel Spitzberg, arrives at a military court in this Oct. 20 file photo, at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland.Steve Ruark / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The buck stops with Lt. Col. Steven Lee Jordan.

Eleven U.S. soldiers — all of them from the enlisted ranks — have been convicted in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, with the harshest sentence a 10-year prison term handed out to a corporal. A general and other officers have received reprimands or demotions that ended or blighted their careers.

But only one officer — Jordan, a 50-year-old Army reservist who ran the interrogation center at the Iraqi prison — faces criminal charges. And unless some startling new information comes to light, it appears that this is as high up the chain of command as criminal charges will go.

Military prosecutors have put Jordan in this solitary position for one reason: They believe he is the man who allowed Abu Ghraib to happen.

Jordan has not been accused of personally torturing or humiliating prisoners. Nor is he seen in any of the photos that stunned Americans, embittered the country’s foes, infuriated the Mideast and compromised the U.S. campaign for democracy in Iraq.

But Jordan — a father of three once regarded by superiors as shrewd, focused and possessing extraordinary leadership ability and “impeccable moral standards” — is accused of failing utterly to exert his authority as the place descended into chaos.

Jordan is charged with 12 counts that carry a combined total of 42 years behind bars. He is awaiting a decision any day now on whether he will be court-martialed.

The charges include dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment. The government alleges Jordan’s actions or inaction subjected prisoners to forced nudity and intimidation by dogs. He also is accused of lying to investigators in denying that he saw prisoners stripped naked or abused.

Claimed no operational control
His defense, revealed at a preliminary hearing in October, is that Jordan had no operational control over interrogations and spent much of his time trying to improve living conditions for soldiers.

Prosecutors would not comment on the case, and Jordan declined requests for interviews from the Associated Press. The leader of his defense team, Capt. Samuel Spitzberg, also refused to comment publicly.

But Maj. Gen. George R. Fay and Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones, who investigated the scandal, concluded that Jordan’s “tacit approval” of violence by military police during an episode in November 2003 “can be pointed to as the causative factor that set the stage for the abuses that followed for days afterward” — namely, the ugly photos.

The episode on Nov. 24, 2003, began when a detainee shot at an MP with a pistol smuggled into the prison by an Iraqi police officer. In reaction, the MPs rounded up 11 Iraqi police officers, and Jordan, the senior officer present, ordered interrogators to screen them.

The Iraqis were strip-searched with female soldiers present. Some were kept naked during interrogations, according to the investigators’ report. The report said no one appeared to be in charge, and there was a widely held but mistaken impression that the rules prohibiting such treatment had been suspended. According to the investigators, Jordan should have known better and restored order.

“Lt. Col. Jordan is responsible for allowing the chaotic situation, the unauthorized nakedness and resultant humiliation, and the military working-dog abuses that occurred that night,” the report said.

The report also said Jordan was deceitful under questioning, and “his recollection of facts, statements and incidents were always recounted to avoid blame or responsibility.”

At issue: Sharing the blame
Priti Patel, an attorney with New York-based Human Rights First, said it would be unfortunate to blame the abusive environment at Abu Ghraib on Jordan.

“If the United States is really serious about really ending its torture in treatment and interrogation policy and holding people responsible for that policy fully accountable, then it needs to assess responsibility higher than Lt. Col. Jordan,” Patel said.

But Eugene R. Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice in Alexandria, Va., said the fact that higher-ups received administrative rather than judicial punishment does not mean crimes were swept under the rug.

“You couldn’t make an informed judgment without seeing all the facts in all of the cases,” he said.

He noted that it is also well-established under the military justice code that an officer can be criminally charged if he knew or should have known what was going on and permitted it to happen.

For now, Jordan remains on active duty with the Intelligence and Security Command at Fort Belvoir, Va.

All-American history
The son of a landscaper, Jordan grew up in Arizona, where he played high school football and attended junior college. After enlisting in his early 20s, he trained as an Army intelligence analyst. He earned a bachelor’s degree in management and a master’s in public administration and was commissioned in 1981 as an officer.

In 1989, he married Gemma C. Salen; they divorced in 2003. After Jordan’s 1992 retirement from active duty, they settled in Fredericksburg, Va., where their last home was a 2½-story red brick house in a prosperous neighborhood.

In the Army Reserve, Jordan specialized in civil affairs, sometimes working as a liaison between Army and civilian authorities. His civilian jobs included intelligence positions with the Navy and the Transportation Security Administration. He also worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

To some of those who supervised him during his 14 years in the regular Army and 13 in the Reserve, Jordan was an outstanding soldier — shrewd, enthusiastic and aggressive, whether pursuing his education, a personal weightlifting goal or intelligence about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

Jordan had “impeccable moral standards,” Col. Claudia J. Kennedy wrote in an evaluation in 1992, when Jordan commanded a military intelligence company in Hawaii.

Contrasting opinions
Retired Maj. Gen. David C. Meade, who picked Jordan to lead an artillery battery at Fort Ord, Calif., in 1985, said the young intelligence officer had “more leadership in his little finger” than any of the junior artillery officers passed over for the job.

“He marches in the direction of the sound of the guns, and fixes whatever needs to be fixed,” Meade recalled in a telephone interview from Haymarket, Va.

Jordan was picked to head Abu Ghraib’s newly created interrogation center by top U.S. intelligence commanders in Baghdad.

Some of the enlisted soldiers who met Jordan after he arrived at Abu Ghraib on Sept. 17, 2003, portrayed him at the preliminary hearing as a friend to the little guy. He obtained furniture, televisions, exercise gear and flak vests for troops who felt forgotten and overwhelmed at the crowded prison.

But the investigators called Jordan “a poor choice” to run the center, citing his status as a civil-affairs officer with no interrogation training. Jordan “gravitated to what he knew, and what he was comfortable with” — largely soldier welfare — and used “extremely poor judgment” in a number of situations, including what the investigators called the “milestone event” of November 2003.

His popularity with the soldiers stoked discord between Jordan and Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of an intelligence brigade and the highest-ranking officer at Abu Ghraib. The conflict divided soldiers’ loyalty and prompted commanders to move Jordan after about three months to another intelligence job in Baghdad, according to investigators.