FORT MEADE, Md. – An Army officer who once was in charge of the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib prison was a failed leader whose errors set the stage for abuses committed by military police under his control, a military prosecutor said Tuesday.
"He was the man who created an atmosphere that broke down the discipline of the soldiers and allowed it to happen," the prosecutor, Lt. Col. John P. Tracy, said as opening statements began in the court-martial of Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan.
The 51-year-old defendant doesn't appear in any of the infamous photos of prisoner humiliation and assault by low-ranking U.S. soldiers at the prison in Iraq in late 2003 and early 2004. He is accused of illegally ordering the use of dogs during interrogations, and of subjecting detainees to forced nudity and intimidation during a search for smuggled weapons on Nov. 24, 2003.
Jordan has said he is being used as a scapegoat.
He is the only officer among the 12 people charged in the scandal, and he is the last to go to trial. Eleven enlisted soldiers have been convicted, with the longest sentence, 10 years, given to former Cpl. Charles Graner Jr. of Uniontown, Pa.
Defense attorney Major Kris Poppe countered in his opening statement that Jordan was "a courageous leader," who helped improve security and living conditions at the prison despite being wounded in a mortar attack shortly after he arrived in September 2003.
Poppe said the abuses were committed mainly by military police outside Jordan's command. He said Jordan's involvement in the Nov. 24, 2003, incident was as a volunteer backup to MPs trying to remove an armed prisoner from his cell.
"The evidence will show that Lt. Col. Jordan was a strong leader. The evidence will not show that Lt. Col. Jordan abused any detainees or was present when any detainees were abused," Poppe said.
On Monday, the judge, Army Col. Stephen R. Henley dismissed two charges — making a false official statement and obstruction of justice — after Maj. Gen. George Fay, who investigated the scandal, acknowledged that he hadn't read Jordan his rights before interviewing him.
The dismissals left Jordan still facing four counts, including disobeying Fay's order barring him from discussing the investigation with others, an offense punishable by up to five years in prison; failure to obey a regulation, punishable by up to two years; cruelty and maltreatment of detainees, punishable by up to one year; and dereliction of duty, punishable by up to six months.