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Army Drops Charges in Abu Ghraib Case
Associated Press | August 21, 2007FORT MEADE, Maryland - Opening statements were set for Tuesday in the court martial of the only U.S. officer charged with abusing prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.
A military judge on Monday dismissed two of the most serious charges against Army Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, 51, a reservist, after a general who investigated the scandal acknowledged he had not read Jordan his rights before interviewing him. The action left Jordan still facing four counts and a possible 8 1/2 years in prison.
Prosecutors on Monday amended one of those remaining counts, a cruelty and maltreatment charge, by narrowing its scope from three months to one day.
Jordan, who has pleaded innocent, is the last of 12 Abu Ghraib defendants to be court-martialed.
The scandal - photos of inmates being abused and humiliated by smiling guards - was a major embarassement for the U.S. in Iraq, and was a catalyst that continued to stoke Arab and Muslim resentment over the U.S. presence in Iraq long after other cases surfaced in which U.S. troops were accused of abusing or killing Iraqi civilians.
It struck a patricularly harsh note in Iraq, though, because the prison under Saddam Hussein's regime, had been synonymous with the torture and killings of inmates, including women and children.
In court Monday morning, prosecutor Lt. Col. John P. Tracy announced that Maj. Gen. George Fay had contacted prosecutors Sunday to say that he "misspoke" during a March 12 pretrial hearing in which he testified under oath that he had advised Jordan of his rights during an interview in 2004.
Tracy said Fay realized his error while preparing to testify at Jordan's trial this week. Fay told government lawyers that "he indeed did not read Lt. Col. Jordan his rights," Tracy said.
The judge, Army Col. Stephen R. Henley, then ordered Jordan's statements to Fay suppressed and granted the government's motion to dismiss two charges based on the 2004 interview. The first charge was that Jordan made a false official statement, an offense punishable by up to five years in prison. The second was false swearing and obstruction of justice, punishable by up to three years.
In the 2004 statement, Jordan told Fay he never saw detainees being abused and never saw nude detainees.
Jordan still is charged with disobeying Fay's order barring him from discussing the investigation with others.
The three other remaining counts refer to the treatment of prisoners documented in photographs of 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, is not in any of the pictures; he is accused of failing to obtain approval to use dogs during an interrogation on Nov. 24, 2003, and of subjecting detainees to forced nudity and intimidation that day.
The specific charges are: failure to obey a regulation, which is punishable by up to two years in prison; cruelty and maltreatment of detainees, punishable by up to one year; and dereliction of duty, which carries a maximum prison sentence of six months.
Fay interviewed many other Soldiers during his investigation. In his report, he concluded that Jordan's tacit approval of harsh tactics 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.
Before jury selection began Monday, prosecutors narrowed the scope of the cruelty and maltreatment charge to a single incident - the roundup - rather than the period from mid-September through late December 2003.
Jordan told The Washington Post last month that he is a scapegoat who, because he is a reservist, is considered expendable.
Jordan's defense, led by Capt. Samuel Spitzberg contends that although Jordan was the titular head of the interrogation center, he spent most of his time trying to improve Soldiers' deplorable living conditions at Abu Ghraib. The defense argued during an October hearing 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.
The jury panel is composed of nine colonels and a brigadier general.
Eleven enlisted Soldiers have been convicted of crimes at Abu Ghraib. The longest prison term was given to former Cpl. Charles Graner Jr, who was sentenced in January 2005 to 10 years for assault, battery, conspiracy, maltreatment, indecent acts and dereliction of duty.
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