The former commander of seven disgraced military police soldiers at Abu Ghraib said the only officer charged in the prisoner-abuse scandal was well aware of shocking conditions inside the prison in Iraq.
The testimony by Major Donald Reese on the second day of Lt Col Steven Jordan’s court martial at Fort Meade, Maryland, was some of the strongest evidence the US government has offered to support charges that Jordan wilfully failed to train, supervise and ensure that soldiers under his control followed interrogation rules.
Jordan, 51, faces up to eight and a half years in prison if he is convicted on all four counts he faces.
Reese, now with the 300th Military Police Brigade of Inkster, Michigan, formerly commanded the 372nd MP Company, a western Maryland unit that has had seven members convicted of crimes at Abu Ghraib.
He told the court martial that Jordan, who directed the prison’s interrogation centre in autumn 2003, knew about naked detainees and told Reese it was an interrogation technique when Reese asked him about it shortly after arriving at Abu Ghraib.
Reese also said that Jordan asked the MPs on November 24 2003, to conduct a cell search that involved dogs. Jordan is accused of illegally authorising the use of dogs for interrogations on that date.
Defence lawyer Major Kris Poppe tried to neutralise the testimony by reminding Reese – and the jury – that Reese was reprimanded for his own leadership failure at Abu Ghraib – but had been promoted from captain to major.
Poppe also produced a prison log with an October 20 2003 entry noting that MPs had ordered a prisoner stripped for six days for sharpening a toothbrush into a weapon. Reese acknowledged that Jordan was not in command of the MPs.
The government contends that as the senior officer on the scene on November 24, Jordan controlled both MPs and interrogators even though they were not in his chain of command.
Jordan’s defence was bolstered by another prosecution witness, Col Thomas Pappas, who testified that Jordan did not fail to supervise or train interrogators on proper techniques, as the government alleged.
Prosecutor Lt Col John Tracy said in his opening statement that Jordan was a failed leader whose errors set the stage for abuses.
“He was the man who created an atmosphere that broke down the discipline of the soldiers and allowed it to happen,” Tracy said.
But Poppe said Jordan was “a courageous leader” who helped improve security and living conditions at the prison despite being wounded in a mortar attack shortly after he arrived in September 2003.
Poppe said the abuses were committed mainly by military police not under Jordan’s command.
Jordan was supervised directly by Pappas, who said he took over as director of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Centre in mid-November because Jordan was not focusing on it enough.
Pappas has not been criminally charged. He was reprimanded and fined £4,000 for approving the use of dogs during an interrogation without higher approval.
Jordan is not in any of the infamous photographs that triggered the Abu Ghraib investigation, and the jury will not be shown any.
He is charged with disobeying an order barring him from discussing the investigation with others, an offence punishable by up to five years in prison; failure to obey a regulation, punishable by up to two years; cruelty and maltreatment of detainees, punishable by up to one year; and dereliction of duty, punishable by up to six months.
He is the only officer among the 12 people charged in the scandal, and the last to go to trial.
Eleven enlisted soldiers have been convicted of crimes, with the longest sentence, 10 years, given to former Cpl Charles Graner, of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in January 2005.