Split Verdict at End of Abu Ghraib Trials
- Split Verdict at End of Abu Ghraib Trials
By Andrew Gray
With the end of the last court-martial linked to prisoner abuse at
Iraq's Abu Ghraib jail, the Pentagon says it is confident justice has
been done but rights groups see a failure to hold leaders accountable.
Only one U.S. officer, Army Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, faced
court-martial over the scandal. Jordan was acquitted on Tuesday of
responsibility for abuse at the jail west of Baghdad.
Jordan, who argued that he played no part in the abuse and that
the military was trying to make him a scapegoat, was convicted only of
disobeying an order not to discuss the investigation into the case. He
was sentenced to a reprimand.
Images of the abuse, including naked detainees stacked in a
pyramid and others cowering before snarling dogs, became public in
April 2004 and badly damaged the reputation of the U.S. military as it
waged war in Iraq.
Eleven lower-ranking soldiers have been convicted in military
courts in connection with the physical abuse and sexual humiliation of
detainees at Abu Ghraib.
Two officers were disciplined by the Army but neither faced
criminal charges or dismissal.
Rights activists say that record is at odds with public pledges
from top U.S. officials.
"Watch how America will do the right thing," then-Secretary of
State Colin Powell declared in May 2004.
Powell said President George W. Bush would be "determined to find
out where responsibility and accountability lie."
Powell himself seems satisfied that justice has been done. "People
were charged and brought before tribunals. The system worked," he said
in a comment relayed to Reuters by his office.
But John Sifton, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said:
"There's been huge gaps in the accountability process."
Call For Independent Prosecutor
Sifton said the military's court-martial system was ill-suited to
dealing with the scandal, in part because procedures required approval
from senior officers. He said the military should have appointed an
"Since the military justice system has proven so poor at dealing
with all this, our recommendation now is that an independent
prosecutor in the Department of Justice be appointed," he added.
The Pentagon defended the court-martial system and its role in
investigating the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
"People that have acted in ways that are inconsistent with our
policies, our procedures, our values will be held to account and the
way that you do that is through the Uniform Code of Military Justice,"
spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
"We should be confident ... given the rigors of the process, that
it makes determinations that are appropriate," he said.
But Allen Keller, an associate professor of medicine at New York
University who is an expert on torture and has studied the Abu Ghraib
scandal, said it was clear responsibility for the abuse went well
beyond low-ranking soldiers.
"The notion that what happened at Abu Ghraib is limited to a few
bad apples on the night shift is absurd," he said.
"Such lack of accountability sends a chilling message to the rest
of the world."
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