Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Sole U.S. Officer Charged Over Abu Ghraib To Face Trial

TurkishPress.com reports:
The only US military officer charged with tormenting prisoners at Baghdad's infamous Abu Ghraib jail will stand trial in August, a judge ruled Tuesday, amid claims that the government itself is getting off scot-free.
While the court martial of Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan will go ahead, there is anger that no higher ranking commanders or politicians are in the dock, three years after reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib first emerged.

Defense lawyers for Jordan, 51, argued at a hearing at Washington's Fort McNair that he was never properly informed of his rights by investigators, thus undermining the government's prosecution case.

The presiding judge, Colonel Stephen Henley, backed part of their argument and agreed to slim down the charges.

As a result, Jordan now faces a maximum jail term of 16 and a half years, down from 22 years initially. But all the other charges still stand, including cruelty and mistreatment of detainees, obstruction of justice, dereliction of duty and disobeying orders.

The trial had been set to begin next month, but Henley pushed the date back to August 20 to allow for further review of emails and documents from Abu Ghraib. Another pre-trial hearing was scheduled for July 10.

Major Kris Poppe, one of Jordan's defense attorneys, said after the hearing that his client was "anxious to have his day in court."

"It's been a long process, and he's ready obviously to get to the conclusion," he told reporters.

Government lawyers refused to comment on their case against Jordan, who remains on active duty at the intelligence and security command at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Jordan headed a US Army interrogation center at the notorious Iraqi prison, where sordid abuses of detainees became public in April 2004 with the publication of graphic photographs.

The photographs showed bloodied, bound and naked prisoners smeared with excrement, forced to perform sexual acts and cowering under attack from US guards' dogs.

A year ago, President George W. Bush said the Abu Ghraib scandal was the "biggest mistake" made by the United States in Iraq, regretting the damage it had inflicted in the court of global public opinion.

Seven low-ranking US soldiers -- controversially described by then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld as only "a few bad apples" -- have been jailed over the abuses.

But for human rights activists, official retribution for Abu Ghraib and for alleged mistreatment at places like the US detention camp in Guantanamo Bay should go far higher up the chain of command.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it was "deeply disappointed" at a federal judge's decision in March to throw out a case against Rumsfeld brought by nine Iraqi and Afghan former detainees for the "torture" they suffered in US military custody.

"We believe that the law and constitution require more, and that the former secretary of defense must be held accountable for his policies that led to this abuse," ACLU attorney Lucas Guttentag said.

Specialist Charles Graner, shown in one photograph smiling and giving a thumbs-up over the corpse of an Iraqi prisoner, was said to have been the Abu Ghraib ringleader and was jailed for 10 years.

Graner's girlfriend of the time, Private Lynndie England, who was pictured holding a naked prisoner at the end of a dog leash, was sentenced to three years.

The prison commander at the time, Janis Karpinski, was the most senior officer to be reprimanded. She was demoted from brigadier general to colonel but faced no charges.

And Jordan's immediate superior, Colonel Thomas Pappas, has escaped prosecution after agreeing to testify against him.