New Charges in Abu Ghraib?

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The looming decision by the U.S. Army to charge Lt. Col. Steven Jordan with dereliction of duty, lying to investigators and conduct unbecoming of an officer is likely to generate even more controversy in the long-running Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.

Jordan would be the highest-ranking officer to face criminal charges so far, and the potential accusations against him, outlined by his defense lawyer, are more serious than those lodged against his immediate superior, Col. Thomas Pappas, who was the top-ranking military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib. Pappas faced only administrative sanctions: an $8,000 fine and a written reprimand for dereliction; he remains on active duty, though he is expected to retire, in part because of his diminished chances for promotion. Pappas has also been granted immunity to testify on behalf of the defense in the trial of two dog handlers accused of using their Belgian shepherds to terrorize prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Pappas has admitted that he improperly allowed certain dog techniques without obtaining the proper authorization from his superiors.

One Army investigation has found that while neither Jordan or Pappas personally participated in the abuse of prisoners, both bore some responsibility by virtue of their command status. Other investigations have said that Jordan was inexperienced in interrogation and intelligence collection, often deferring decisions to lower-ranking soldiers under his command to whom he provided inadequate supervision. The Army has offered no explanation as to why Pappas faces less serious charges than Jordan, or why the charges against Jordan are only being brought now, when those against Pappas were settled last year.

Jordan, who helped direct day-to-day activities in the Abu Ghraib cell block where most of the abuses occurred, would be in a position to describe interrogation techniques used at the facility, as well as what authorization , if any, was issued by superior officers, including Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the former head of the U.S. intelligence command in Baghdad; Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, former overall Army commander in Iraq; and Col. Pappas, Jordan's superior, who, with a grant of immunity, may also testify against him at trial. Finally, Jordan could potentially shed light on the mission of Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former commandant of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who was sent to Abu Ghraib in 2003 to advise on enhanced interrogation methods that it was hoped would produce better intelligence. The Abu Ghraib scandal erupted not long after Gen. Miller's departure from Abu Ghraib.

So far, however, the Army has said it is still studying the exact nature of the charges against Jordan, which could be filed as soon as next week.

But there was at least one episode at Abu Ghraib where Jordan does seem to have been personally involved. After after the death of Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi prisoner who collapsed under interrogation in CIA custody, Jordan apparently ordered that his body be put on ice, according to court testimony. Pictures of the body packed in ice with Abu Ghraib soldiers mugging for the camera later became some of the most publicized images of the scandal. Jamadi's body was kept on ice for several days and smuggled out of the prison, supposedly to avoid upsetting other detainees. Jamadi's suspicious death became the focus of three official investigations, none of which blamed Jordan directly.