Human rights groups are denouncing a military court for acquitting an army officer of the most serious charges laid in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal and issuing him a reprimand.


Lt.-Col. Steven Jordan and his 11-year-old son leave military court Wednesday in Fort Meade, Md. ((Steve Ruark/Associated Press))

The military jury reprimanded Lt.-Col. Steven Jordan on Wednesday, a day after finding him not guilty of three charges directly related to the mistreatment of detainees at the U.S.-run prison west of Baghdad.

The jury convicted the 51-year-old reservist from Fredericksburg, Va.,of disobeying a general's order not to discuss the abuse investigation, but it spared him from doing jail time. Jordan was facing up to five years in prison for the charge.

The impact of the reprimand on Jordan's career was not immediately clear.

John Sifton, senior counterterrorism researcher with Washington-based Human Rights Watch, called Jordan's prosecution "amateurish and half-baked" and said the military lacked the will to get to the bottom of the abuse.

Jordan is the only officer to be court-martialled in the scandal, which came to light after photographs were published showing U.S. soldiers grinning alongside detainees held in humiliating positions in 2003 and 2004.

Jordan was the highest-ranking officer at the prison during the second half of 2003, but did not appear in any of the photos.

The verdicts absolve him of responsibility for the actions of 11 lower-ranking soldiers who have already been convicted for their roles at Abu Ghraib.

The New York-based group Human Rights First said the acquittal on charges of failing to control those soldiers creates an "accountability gap."

Its deputy director, Hina Shamsi, told the Associated Press the decision cuts short a trail of accountability that could lead much higher.

With files from the Associated Press