BALTIMORE – The U.S. Army has thrown out the conviction of the only officer court-martialed in the Abu Ghraib scandal, bringing an end to the four-year investigation and drawing complaints from human rights activists of a Pentagon whitewash.
Barring any startling new information, the decision means no officers or civilian leaders will be held criminally responsible for the prisoner abuse — which included the photographing of Iraqi prisoners in painful and sexually humiliating positions — that embarrassed the U.S. military and inflamed the Muslim world.
Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan was cleared this week of any criminal wrongdoing by Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe, commander of the Military District of Washington. Jordan was instead given an administrative reprimand, a blot on his record.
Jordan, 51, was acquitted at his court-martial in August of charges he failed to supervise the 11 lower-ranking soldiers convicted for their roles in the abuse.
But he was found guilty of disobeying an order not to talk about the investigation, and the jury recommended a criminal reprimand, the lightest possible punishment.
Maj. Kris Poppe, Jordan's attorney, said he argued that Jordan "faced these very serious charges for a long period of time, that he had been found not guilty of any offense related to the abuse of detainees, and that he had a stellar record."
"In light of the nature of the offense that Jordan had been found guilty of committing and the substantial evidence in mitigation at trial and in post-trial matters submitted by defense counsel, Rowe determined that an administrative reprimand was a fair and appropriate disposition of the matter," Joanna P. Hawkins, a military spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Jordan acknowledged e-mailing a number of soldiers about the investigation, despite an order not to discuss the case.
Eugene R. Fidell, a Washington lawyer who specializes in military law, said the decision was not at all surprising. If disobeying an order had been the only charge against Jordan, the matter almost certainly would not have gone to a court-martial, Fidell said.
But human rights advocates said the case did not go higher up the chain of command and said the decision sent a troubling message.
"It could not be more clear that prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted from policies and practices authorized by high-level officials, including military and civilian leaders," said Hira Shamsi, an attorney with the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Although the abuse was systemic and widespread, the accountability for it has been anything but."
Mila Rosenthal, deputy executive director for research and policy for Amnesty International USA, said: "I think we're emboldening dictators and despots around the world. We're saying that it's OK to allow these kinds of abuses to flourish."
Jordan, who remains on active duty, did not respond to a request for comment through his lawyer, but told The Washington Post, which first reported the dismissal of his conviction on Thursday, that the Army "finally got it right."
"I'm still a little bit shocked by it all, but I'm gratified and glad that Gen. Rowe saw it for what it really is," he said. "I don't know if any officer needed to be held accountable, but I obviously don't believe it should have been me."
Jordan joins four other officers who received administrative, or non-criminal, punishment in the scandal, including former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of all U.S.-run prisons in Iraq. She was demoted to colonel for dereliction of duty and an unrelated allegation of shoplifting.
The military found that criminal responsibility for the abuse of prisoners did not rise above Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick, a military policeman who was paroled in October after serving about three years of an eight-year sentence.
Pfc. Lynndie England, who was shown in some of the most lurid photos holding a naked prisoner on a leash and posing with a pyramid of naked detainees, received a three-year sentence and was released after about 16 months.
The only soldier still behind bars for crimes at Abu Ghraib is former Cpl. Charles Graner Jr., who received a 10-year sentence for assault, battery, conspiracy, maltreatment, indecent acts and dereliction of duty.