Janis Karpinski was in Philadelphia last Monday. For those of you not interested in spending the $20 for her new book, I’ll spare you.
Karpinski’s Army Reserve unit was in control of the Abu Ghraib prison when Iraqi detainees were physically abused and sexually humiliated in fall 2003.
She was Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski before being demoted and then retiring because of her role in the prison scandal.
Rather than recoiling in shame, Karpinski did the honorable thing: She wrote a book.
Of late, Karpinski is hardly the only once little-known U.S. official who turned into a national book-touring star after a bit of controversy.
Longtime presidential counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke – who is promoting his new work of fiction after his well-publicized book on the war on terrorism – spoke at the Constitution Center last Tuesday.
Paul Bremer, former director of the U.S. work in post-war Iraq, is scheduled to speak in January at a function held by the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. His forthcoming book will defend his “struggle to build a future of hope” in Iraq.
Karpinski’s struggle has been an uphill climb as well. A self-labeled “scapegoat” for her military superiors, much of her tour interviews, unlike the major crux of her book, has been focused on deflecting blame for the Abu Ghraib scandal away from herself.
To a crowd of more than 100 last Monday, Karpinski further withdrew herself from the possibility of any wrongdoing, effacing her accountability as victim turned whistleblower.
She mentioned the blameworthiness of the 800th Military Police Brigade soldiers pictured performing the acts and interrogators who Karpinski alleged encouraged the acts. Karpinski said those interrogators, who were civilian contractors, were deployed to the prison, but not under her authority.
“Those seven soldiers, do they deserve punishment? Of course,” she said, “… but it’s those interrogators who wanted prisoners treated like dogs.”
Explaining Abu Ghraib, Karpinski said the prison was divided between detention and interrogation of prisoners, and only the former was her responsibility. She said, “I guess [the interrogators] did a good job of convincing everyone that they had authority to give orders.”
Did you follow that? Karpinski argues that civilian interrogators in her prison ordered soldiers, very much under her control, to abuse and humiliate detainees. She insisted that she was unaware of the abuse.
Karpinski said “the chains, the dog collars – the interrogators supplied them and told the soldiers what to do.”
It has become regular rhetoric for the Democratic Party faithful to criticize the bureaucracy of the military. Keep the liberal slurs to a minimum, but from time to time, I buy into some of that.
In Karpinski’s case though, it is difficult for me to accept that intelligence soldiers manipulated military police to create an international incident without any blame for the prison’s leading officer. Sgt. James Spadola, who served under Karpinski during her command of the 800th Military Police Brigade from June 2003 till March 2004, downplayed Karpinski’s irresponsible leadership.
“It is not feasible for a general to know everything [her] soldiers are doing, especially with the numbers [of soldiers] Karpinski had,” Spadola said.
Yet, if there was a question about chain of command, Karpinski is to blame. If she was truly unacquainted with just a deleterious misuse of power, which I question, she should have been.
“There’s a rule, an unwritten rule in the Army: If your soldiers do wrong, you do wrong,” Spadola said. “And [Ms.] Karpinski completely ignores that.”
Disregarding the unlikely possibility of Ms. Karpinski running for public office on a military-reformist platform, her first authorship will likely be the last we hear from her.
It seems that my final thoughts on her guilt or innocence will be blurred with her refusal to accept any blame. Well, that and a book tour.
Christopher George Wink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.