An Army investigation and congressional hearings have spotlighted a series of conflicting statements about Iraqi prisoner abuse between the top brass and the general who once ran Abu Ghraib prison and who was stripped this week of her brigade command.
Some military advocates say Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski received light punishment because she is one of the Army’s few female generals. Recommended for a reprimand, she instead received a minor letter of admonishment.
At first, she kept her command of the 800th Military Police Brigade. But as pressure mounted from Congress to punish higher-ups — not just enlisted MPs at the prison — the Army this week temporarily reassigned her to a reserve unit at Fort Jackson, S.C.
The differences pitting Gen. Karpinski against superiors go to the heart of why the infamous prison near Baghdad was dysfunctional and why it became the venue for continued physical and psychological abuse of Iraqi detainees by military police.
Gen. Karpinski, a reservist who lives in Hilton Head, S.C., and works as a business consultant, says the scandal stemmed from a lack of manpower at Abu Ghraib and no clear direction from the military command in Baghdad led by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. She denies knowledge of any abusive behavior before the scandal broke.
But Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who completed the first of several ongoing administrative investigations, lays some blame squarely at the feet of Gen. Karpinski. His report says she did not act on recommendations from a series of fault-finding inquiries before the ill treatment began in October.
“Had the findings and recommendations contained within their own investigations been analyzed and actually implemented by Brig. Gen. Karpinski, many of the subsequent escapes, accountability lapses and cases of abuse may have been prevented,” Gen. Taguba wrote.
Some pro-military persons have seized on the Abu Ghraib scandal as an example of a “politically correct” military that does not want to punish a female general.
“I think they’ve been handling her with kid gloves,” said Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness. “The fact that she is a woman general who portrayed herself as a victim may have had something to do with it.”
On her suspension, Mrs. Donnelly said, “Frankly, I wonder why it has taken so long. She was there before, during and after the worst of the abuse. I’m not convinced at all by her argument she did not know.”
William S. Lind, who directs the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation, writes in a column this week that, “The apparent breakdown in discipline among the MPs at Abu Ghraib may relate to the presence of women, and especially to the fact that the commander was a woman. … The climate of ‘political correctness’ (or, to give it its true name, cultural Marxism) that has infested and overwhelmed the American armed forces makes it almost impossible to discipline a woman — and risky for a man to attempt to do so.”
Whatever the reason, one theme is clear: Abu Ghraib was a disaster waiting to happen. Rules on uniforms were not enforced; soldiers wrote poems and other sayings on their helmets; saluting of officers was not enforced. Records on inmates and escapes were spotty. Regulations were not posted; no MP had been trained adequately in detainee operations.
“I have never seen a more dysfunctional command relationship in the history of me looking at the military like that jail,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, told Gen. Sanchez at a Senate hearing last week.
“Sir,” the three-star general responded, “It was dysfunctional before the 19th of November.”
His reference to that date was a message to his critics, including Gen. Karpinski. She has blamed problems on the turnover of prison command from her 800th Brigade on that date to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. Some MPs accused of misconduct contend they acted on orders from 205th officers. But most abuses occurred in October and early November prior to the 19th, according to Gen. Taguba.