First officer is charged in Abu Ghraib scandal

Former interrogation director Lt. Col. Steven Jordan reacted to ongoing abuse by building a plywood wall to hide it, according to documents obtained by Salon.

By Mark Benjamin
April 29, 2006 5:55PM (UTC)
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The Army announced Friday that for the first time an officer, Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, will face criminal charges because of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

The Army contends that Jordan, who headed the interrogation center at the prison, "did oppress Iraqi detainees ... by subjecting them to forced nudity and intimidation by military working dogs." Jordan is also accused of repeatedly lying to investigators during two separate probes into Abu Ghraib and failing to obey the orders of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, about the proper use of military dogs.


Jordan, a South Dakota-born reservist who volunteered to go to Iraq, has been in legal jeopardy over Abu Ghraib and his subsequent statements to Army investigators for the past two years. Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who conducted one of the earliest probes into Abu Ghraib, accused Jordan in his March 2004 report of "making material misrepresentations." The new charges against Jordan contend that he lied when he told Taguba that he "never saw nude detainees [and] never knew of dogs being used in interrogations."

Some of the military's evidence implicating Jordan in this matter is contained in two lengthy unpublished interviews, obtained by Salon, that Army investigators conducted with two soldiers already court-martialed for their activities at Abu Ghraib. The Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID) questioned Cpl. Charles Graner and Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick II while they were serving prison terms. The men told investigators that Jordan witnessed abuse and did nothing to stop it, and even helped construct a plywood wall to hide what was going on from Iraqi police.

If what Graner and Frederick claim is true, then Jordan represents the intersection between the abuse conducted by low-level soldiers and the aggressive demands of high-ranking military and civilian officials for more complete intelligence information from the detainees.


What is unclear from Friday's charges is whether Jordan is being held accountable solely for his own actions at Abu Ghraib or whether he is also being prosecuted for the abuses committed by soldiers under his command. So far 10 enlisted soldiers have been convicted for the now-infamous abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib. More than a year ago, the Army obtained statements indicating that Jordan knew and condoned sexual humiliation of Abu Ghraib prisoners.

While human-rights experts hailed the charges against Jordan as a sign of the Army's willingness to move up the chain of command in prosecuting Abu Ghraib cases, they also expressed concern that the specificity of the references to Sanchez's orders may insulate high-ranking military and civilian officials from responsibility for the prisoner abuse.

In CID interviews with Graner and Frederick, Jordan is depicted as central to the abuse. Graner, who has been portrayed by the government as the ringleader of the actual abuse at Abu Ghraib, described Jordan as "the man that ties everything with everybody." According to Graner, Jordan saw "people hanging from their cell, restrained to the doors and everything that went on" -- and did nothing to stop it.


Frederick painted a similar picture in his Nov. 3, 2004, interview with CID as he discussed Jordan's role at the prison. "He saw them [detainees] nude and handcuffed to the doors," Frederick recalled. "I talked to him directly a couple times and he never said anything to me about how we were treating the detainees."

Graner described to Army investigators the fallout from the night of Nov. 7, 2003, when some of the most disturbing instances of sexual humiliation occurred at the prison. That night, according to Army investigations, Graner and his fellow soldiers forced a naked group of prisoners to form a pyramid, simulate masturbation and simulate oral sex. The abuse occurred outside the jail cells in a prison corridor that could be seen through a doorway by Iraqi police who were stationed at Abu Ghraib.


Graner said that he told Jordan the next day what occurred on the prison night shift. As Graner recounted, Jordan's response was neither shock nor outrage. Instead of ordering the abuse halted, Jordan allegedly helped Graner erect a plywood wall that would obscure the view from the prison corridor.

"I had reported to him [Jordan] the night after the masturbation about what had happened," Graner told investigators. Graner said that he expressed the view that "if it was going to happen, it shouldn't happen out in the open." In response, Graner said that Jordan "gave me the wall." Both men allegedly picked up the plywood at nearby Camp Vigilant and, in Graner's words, "we put it up."

Graner was interviewed by CID under a grant of immunity on April 6 and 7, 2005.


In his own interview with Army investigators, Frederick also identified the photograph that shows the plywood wall apparently designed to conceal detainee abuse. When questioned by CID, Frederick described it as "the partition so that the Iraqi police could not see" into the intelligence wing of the prison.

Jordan himself discussed this topic on Feb. 10, 2004, with Taguba. According to the Taguba report, Jordan claimed that the partition was designed to protect prisoner privacy. "It had something to do with if they brought somebody out that was doing a clothing change or they were taking a garment from or something like that," Jordan said. "They didn't want females walking by observing."

Nowhere in Friday's charges against Jordan is there any reference to another shadowy activity in which he participated at Abu Ghraib -- the hiding of "ghost detainees" at the prison whom the CIA interrogated in off-the-books fashion.


Both Frederick and Graner describe Jordan as deeply involved with the CIA at the prison. According to Graner, Jordan oversaw 40-50 of these "ghost detainees," whom the CIA would deliver to the prison, interrogate and then remove to parts unknown without the assignment of prisoner numbers or any military paper trail.

One such ghost detainee, Manadel al-Jamadi, died at Abu Ghraib during a CIA interrogation in a shower room at the prison in November 2003. A military autopsy found that the cause of death was "blunt force injuries complicated by compromised respiration." Photos of Jamadi's body, packed in ice, were among the more shocking images from Abu Ghraib.

According to documents obtained by Salon from an investigation into Jamadi's death, Jordan arrived in the shower room soon after the prisoner died and was involved in a discussion with a CIA operative about what to do with the dead body. Capt. Christopher R. Brinson told government investigators that the body was removed the next day by placing it on a stretcher and putting an IV into his arm to fool other prisoners into thinking that Jamadi was still alive.

In his 2004 interview with Taguba, Jordan admitted helping handle ghost detainees, but only under the orders of a superior officer, the military intelligence commander at Abu Ghraib, Col. Thomas M. Pappas.


Salon telephoned two attorneys involved in Jordan's defense requesting comment. The calls were not returned. When interviewed by Taguba, Jordan denied knowledge of any prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. As Jordan put it during hostile questioning by Taguba, "I never imagined anything going on other than normal operations."

In their charges against Jordan, the Army repeatedly refers to such statements as "totally false."

With additional reporting by Michael Scherer

Mark Benjamin

Mark Benjamin is a national correspondent for Salon based in Washington, D.C. Read his other articles here.

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