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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Interrogation Center Chief Created 'Chaotic Situation'

Steven L. Jordan lacked training and knowledge for the job at Abu Ghraib, papers show. He allegedly witnessed but did not report abuses.

August 27, 2004|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan spent most of his Army career in routine, even mundane, assignments, working during the last decade in electronic warfare planning and civil affairs duties.

He took two brief courses in military intelligence but knew little about the Geneva Convention outlawing prisoner abuse. He told subordinates that he did not fully understand the legal difference between short-term detainees and incarcerated prisoners.

Yet, he was placed in charge of the interrogation task force at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison as it teemed with influxes of prisoners.

By some accounts, he worked to exhaustion to keep up with the demands of the job. Inexperienced, untrained and overwhelmed, he eventually became part of the compound's problems, failing to read notices -- posted on prison walls -- on the legal rights of detainees, allegedly witnessing but not reporting abuses, and giving false statements to superiors.

Now facing disciplinary action or possible criminal charges, Jordan has come to exemplify the situation at the prison where he worked -- a place that investigative panels have since described as poorly run, understaffed and neglected, giving rise to conditions in which grotesque abuses of detainees took place.

Much like Abu Ghraib, Jordan was not prepared for the job U.S. commanders in Iraq gave him, and would later come under fire for doing the wrong thing under difficult conditions.

Reports issued this week and classified records and interview transcripts obtained by The Times portray Jordan as both a victim and a perpetrator. He arrived at the overcrowded and understaffed prison outside Baghdad in September with what he later acknowledged was only a "passing familiarity" with his assigned tasks.

Officials said he almost immediately began pleading with interrogators to let him sit in on interviews. They generally refused, wary that he did not have the credentials to do the job.

Several officials said Jordan turned to CIA agents working in the prison and became "fascinated" with them and their activities -- rather than tending to his administrative duties of keeping the interrogation center supplied and making sure reports got to the right people.

His direct supervisor acknowledged that it was a mistake that Jordan was ever placed in such a demanding position, according to a classified transcript.

Army generals who have interviewed Jordan several times have recommended that he be reprimanded for poorly training his soldiers, failing to take full responsibility for his actions and not always telling the truth about what happened at Abu Ghraib.

Jordan has never spoken publicly about his work at Abu Ghraib. He has pleaded the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination when called to testify against other soldiers in pretrial hearings. He has not appeared in any of the prison abuse photographs made public.

But he was there on the tiers where much of the abuse took place, records state. Capt. Donald J. Reese, who ran the military police company serving as prison guards, described Jordan as being just under 6 feet tall, balding, a little overweight -- a sort of nervous individual who sometimes wore glasses.

Jordan strolled the halls in his combat fatigues and a "black bear suit" type jacket, Reese said in another classified interview. "He was well known by all the guards."

When militants wounded a dozen soldiers and killed two in a mortar attack on the prison, he was one of those hit. For days, he would collapse into tears over his fallen comrades.

He was there, too, when a prisoner used a smuggled gun to wound a guard. Many times, Jordan allegedly "lost his composure" and had guards strip the inmates, frighten them with dogs and, in the words of one of the investigative reports issued this week, created a more "chaotic situation."

Jordan, married and the father of two, is from Fredericksburg, Va. He remains in Iraq, represented by a military lawyer and awaiting word on his future. His civilian attorney in Alexandria, Va., Alan Chaset, has not met Jordan, though they've spoken by phone and exchanged e-mail.

Knowing that he faces career-ending punishment, but that he also can be viewed as a victim of a military system that put him in the wrong place, is difficult for Jordan, Chaset said.

But Chaset said that considering many military personnel are now vulnerable and face equally severe reprimands or prison time -- at least 48 have been singled out so far -- "that doesn't set him apart from anyone else."

Jordan's direct boss at Abu Ghraib, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who also is recommended for administrative discipline, told investigators that Jordan was foisted upon him, at a time when the prison was growing crowded and pressure for more information was intense.

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