The U.S. military is nearing the end of its investigation of Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse with the court-martial of Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, who is accused of approving some mistreatment, allowing it to continue and lying about it afterward.
A trial for Jordan, 51, of Fredericksburg, Va., will begin Monday at Fort Meade, Md. He has pleaded innocent to the six charges, which could bring a 16 1/2-year prison sentence.
He is the last of 12 defendants — and the only officer — charged in a probe triggered by photographs showing low-ranking U.S. soldiers assaulting and humiliating naked detainees at the prison in Iraq in late 2003 and early 2004. Jordan, the former director of the prison's interrogation center, isn't in any of the pictures but is charged with illegally approving the use of dogs and nudity during interrogations.
Jordan told The Washington Post last month that he is a scapegoat who, because he is a reservist, is considered more expendable.
Jordan and lawyers for both sides declined to be interviewed by The Associated Press about the court-martial. His trial, before a jury of at least five officers, all of higher rank, is expected to take two weeks.
Government lawyers, led by Lt. Col. John P. Tracy, plan to call witnesses including Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, who investigated the abuses. Fay concluded in his report that Jordan's tacit approval of violence during a weapons search on Nov. 24, 2003, "set the stage for the abuses that followed for days afterward."
The search, known as the "roundup," followed an episode in which a Syrian detainee fired at Jordan and other soldiers with a handgun he had obtained from Iraqi police officers, according to investigative records.
Jordan's defense, led by Capt. Samuel Spitzberg, will argue that although Jordan was the titular head of the interrogation center, he spent most of his time trying to improve soldiers' deplorable living conditions. During a hearing in October, the defense contended that interrogation conditions were set by two other officers: Col. Thomas Pappas, an intelligence brigade commander who was the highest-ranking officer at Abu Ghraib, and Capt. Carolyn Wood, leader of a unit within the interrogation center called the Interrogation Command Element.
Neither Pappas nor Wood has been charged with crimes. Pappas was reprimanded and fined $8,000 for once approving the use of dogs during an interrogation without higher approval.
Kurt Goering, director of research and policy at Amnesty International USA, said the trial could shed light on high-level approval of interrogation tactics tantamount to torture.
"There is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that it goes all the way to President Bush and (former Defense Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld," Goering said. "There is today, still, a continuing failure to hold these officials at the highest levels responsible."
Three of the counts Jordan faces refer to the treatment of prisoners: cruelty and maltreatment; dereliction of duty for failing to stop the abuse; and failure to obtain permission to use dogs. But the harshest penalties — totaling 13 years — are for two counts alleging he lied to Fay about his knowledge of abuses and one count alleging he disobeyed the general's order barring him from discussing Fay's investigation with others.
Eugene R. Fidell, president of the Washington-based National Institute of Military Justice, said the relatively lighter penalties for abusing prisoners should be increased as "a way of sending a signal both within the service and to our friends and others around the world that we treat these matters seriously."
Eleven enlisted soldiers have been convicted of crimes at Abu Ghraib. The longest prison term was given to former Cpl. Charles Graner Jr., of Uniontown, Pa., who was sentenced in January 2005 to 10 years for assault, battery, conspiracy, maltreatment, indecent acts and dereliction of duty.