I was invited to a luncheon at which Col./formerly Gen. Janice Karpinski was the guest speaker.
It was a Hollywood crowd; smart, well-dressed, strongly convinced about a number of things.
One of them is the innocence of Ms. Karpinski.
I sat to Ms. Karpinski’s (I use Ms. Karpinski through not out of disrespect to her rank, but because I’m honestly not sure which rank I should be addressing her by) left; to her right sat a woman wearing a large ‘Code Pink’ button (she left before I did, so I couldn’t ask her about their vigils at Walter Reed).
The readers of this blog are doubtless familiar with Janice Karpinski; she was the commander of the Reserve brigade that, among other things was responsible for Abu Ghraib back when Lynndie English had her little birthday party.
I’ve not commented deeply on the whole Abu Ghraib /torture issue because there’s been a lot more smoke than light everywhere I looked, and picking between the competing plausible narratives (I’m skipping the “U.S. military are bloodthirsty murders and torturers” one) require more knowledge than I have. I’m opposed to torture, for a variety of reasons, including lack of proof that it works, and think that the only moral position is one that requires the torturer to run the legal risk and moral hazard. But I’ll also suggest that there are a lot of aggressive techniques – most of what is done to our own troops in SERE training – that I would hesitate to classify as torture.
Even so, I was negatively predisposed to Ms. Karpinski when I did accept the invitation, but for a more general reason. Typically, people work for me in the course of my job, and I in turn am responsible to other people. Things go wrong, and some of them go wrong enough that far more-senior folks want to know what the hell happened.When that happens, I always take responsibility for what my people do; I believe that I am, without exception, ultimately responsible for them and their actions. That doesn’t mean I won’t fire someone – I do that a fair amount. Or that the thing I will take responsibility for was hiring a moron and then not supervising them well. I’ve done that, too.
From the press reports that I saw, Ms. Karpinski (I don’t know which rank I should use in addressing her) never did. She was reported as listing a host of other people who were responsible for what happened, and I was unimpressed by that.
But reality has a way of trumping my assumptions, so I decided that I should take on the opportunity to meet her and hear what she had to say for myself. At the end are the notes I took on my Treo. Note that she was asked if this was off the record, and said that she’d inform us if anything was off the record. Nothing was.
I’ll sum up her points as I took them:
* She led a battalion of reserves who were chartered with managing prisoners of war. But they were not used substantially in that capacity, and were used for escort service – she implies elite escort service – and other ‘random tasks’ for some time after deployment. They were then in charge of a network of prisons, including Abu Ghraib.
* At first they had ‘common prisoners’ who she suggested were common criminals and low-level POW’s. they processed and released 40,000 of them, and had a 0% recidivism rate – “because we were so good” (her words).
* But abuse was widespread in Iraq, and led from the top. Not her, or her team, but the Military Intelligence (MI) and Other Government Agency (OGA) folks who handled the specific cellblock where abuse took place.
* It was a deliberate policy to gather intel, and she opposed it, which is one key reason why she was at odds with her leadership. She hints at extensive cover-ups, reaching far up the chain of command.
* The MI and OGA subverted her leadership by reaching out to the weakest members of her teams and ‘seducing’ them.
* She knew nothing about the abuse at Abu Ghraib until she was informed by Gen. Sanchez.
I appreciated her willingness to come out and talk, and answer questions. I asked her two – first, whether she stood behind her charges that female soldiers had died because they were too afraid to use the latrines at night – because of the risk of rape – and so did not drink enough fluids.
Her response was that she absolutely did stand behind them.
I also asked her, when she was describing the mysterious contractors who wore no ID and never identified themselves how they had received access to the prison without ID badges. “If I were to drive up in a land Cruiser and ID myself as a spook, would they have let me in?” I asked. “No,” she replied. “So how did these guys get in?” “Col. Pappas authorized them.”
So I walked out of our nice restaurant, and one of the other attendees came out with me, and I asked him what he’d thought. “I’m not sure,” he replied.
“Me neither. I’ve got two huge problems with what she said. First, all the pictures were taken on one weekend. that undercuts the notion that someone in power wanted the pictures. Next, the fact that copies of the pictures stayed with the soldiers who took them – that the CIA spooks didn’t collect and keep them, knowing what would happen if they got out. And we know the soldiers kept them because of how they came out to the military and to the press.”
“And I can’t believe that people walked around a secure prison with no uniforms and no ID based on one Colonel’s say-so. How did that work?”
And so I drove away doubtful but still somewhat confused. So I went and did some research, and found the Inspector General’s report that she was so critical of. It’s available as a pdf on the NPR site. Go read the whole thing.
It paints a very different picture than that given by Ms. Karpinski; understandable given that she feels that the report scapegoated her. But there are a series of damning factual claims made in the report which go the heart of what may well have happened at Abu Ghraib. They include:
22. (U) The documentation provided to this investigation identified 27 escapes or attempted escapes from the detention facilities throughout the 800th MP Brigade’s AOR. Based on my assessment and detailed analysis of the substandard accountability process maintained by the 800th MP Brigade, it is highly likely that there were several more unreported cases of escape that were probably “written off” as administrative errors or otherwise undocumented. 1LT Lewis Raeder, Platoon Leader, 372nd MP Company, reported knowing about at least two additional escapes (one from a work detail and one from a window) from Abu Ghraib (BCCF) that were not documented. LTC Dennis McGlone, Commander, 744th MP Battalion, detailed the escape of one detainee at the High Value Detainee Facility who went to the latrine and then outran the guards and escaped. Lastly, BG Janis Karpinski, Commander, 800th MP Brigade, stated that there were more than 32 escapes from her holding facilities, which does not match the number derived from the investigation materials.
25. (U) After Action Reviews (AARs) are not routinely being conducted after an escape or other serious incident. No lessons learned seem to have been disseminated to subordinate units to enable corrective action at the lowest level. The Investigation Team requested copies of AARs, and none were provided. (Multiple Witness Statements)
26. (U) Lessons learned (i.e. Findings and Recommendations from various 15-6 Investigations concerning escapes and accountability lapses) were rubber stamped as approved and ordered implemented by BG Karpinski. There is no evidence that the majority of her orders directing the implementation of substantive changes were ever acted upon. Additionally, there was no follow-up by the command to verify the corrective actions were taken. Had the findings and recommendations contained within their own investigations been analyzed and actually implemented by BG Karpinski, many of the subsequent escapes, accountability lapses, and cases of abuse may have been prevented. (ANNEXES 5-10)
31. (U) SGM Marc Emerson, Operations SGM, 320th MP Battalion, contended that the Detainee Rules of Engagement (DROE) and the general principles of the Geneva Convention were briefed at every guard mount and shift change on Abu Ghraib. However, none of our witnesses, nor our personal observations, support his contention. I find that SGM Emerson was not a credible witness. (ANNEXES 45, 80, and the Personal Observations of the Investigation Team)
32. (U) Several interviewees insisted that the MP and MI Soldiers at Abu Ghraib (BCCF) received regular training on the basics of detainee operations; however, they have been unable to produce any verifying documentation, sign-in rosters, or soldiers who can recall the content of this training. (ANNEXES 59, 80, and the Absence of any Training Records)
33. (S/NF) The various detention facilities operated by the 800th MP Brigade have routinely held persons brought to them by Other Government Agencies (OGAs) without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention. The Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center (JIDC) at Abu Ghraib called these detainees “ghost detainees.” On at least one occasion, the 320th MP Battalion at Abu Ghraib held a handful of “ghost detainees” (6-8) for OGAs that they moved around within the facility to hide them from a visiting International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) survey team. This maneuver was deceptive, contrary to Army Doctrine, and in violation of international law. (ANNEX 53)
34. (U) The following riots, escapes, and shootings have been documented and reported to this Investigation Team. Although there is no data from other missions of similar size and duration to compare the number of escapes with, the most significant factors derived from these reports are twofold. First, investigations and SIRs lacked critical data needed to evaluate the details of each incident. Second, each investigation seems to have pointed to the same types of deficiencies; however, little to nothing was done to correct the problems and to implement the recommendations as was ordered by BG Karpinski, nor was there any command emphasis to ensure these deficiencies were corrected:
a. (U) 4 June 03- This escape was mentioned in the 15-6 Investigation covering the 13 June 03 escape, recapture, and shootings of detainees at Camp Vigilant (320th MP Battalion). However, no investigation or additional information was provided as requested by this investigation team. (ANNEX 7)
b. (U) 9 June 03- Riot and shootings of five detainees at Camp Cropper. (115th MP Battalion) Several detainees allegedly rioted after a detainee was subdued by MPs of the 115th MP Battalion after striking a guard in compound B of Camp Cropper. A 15-6 investigation by 1LT Magowan (115th MP Battalion, Platoon Leader) concluded that a detainee had acted up and hit an MP. After being subdued, one of the MPs took off his DCU top and flexed his muscles to the detainees, which further escalated the riot. The MPs were overwhelmed and the guards fired lethal rounds to protect the life of the compound MPs, whereby 5 detainees were wounded. Contributing factors were poor communications, no clear chain of command, facility-obstructed views of posted guards, the QRF did not have non-lethal equipment, and the SOP was inadequate and outdated. (ANNEX 5)
There’s a lot more…go read it.
Note that these deficiencies predated the November decision to give Military Intelligence control of portions of the prison, the conflict of command which Karpinski blames for the lack of control of her troops.
The picture painted is sadly one of a Dilbert-esque world, except that instead of keyboards the badly managed characters have guns, dogs, clubs, and glowsticks. Note that this doesn’t prove that there was no policy of torture or brutality. I think that the low number of prisoner deaths is good first evidence of that, along with a lack of verifiable reports – in the face of an aggressive international press. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as they say, and I continue to keep my eyes and ears open.
Here are my direct notes:
Karpinski. Steve Jordan – charged re Abu Ghraib
Oversight for 1A & 1B reported to Col Papas. Had oversight for the troops who had responsibility for the dead Iraqi.
One of his soldiers raped a prisoner.
3 problem soldiers. Were sent back to Iraq.
Titan & Kaki & OGA (other govt agencies) played Grainer – claims pix were to be used to intimidate prisoners.
She is convinced pictures were requested by MI and OGA to ‘soften up’ prisoners at other camps.
(My question) Col. Pappas put contractors on the list.
Guard discriminates on race strongly.
Her brigade had no mission – were in Kuwait. Got a whole series of random missions.
Sanchez wouldn’t let her team ‘dock’ and get resources from the parent org.
Processed 40k Iraqi prisoners in 6mos and none came back. She says because they were so good.
Jordan is a reservist – no regular army charged.
Guy in sleeping bag. Ordered to sit on his chest until he stopped breathing.
Gen. Miller was resp for techniques.
A Ms. Wood was responsible for interrogation techniques.
She only saw one interrogation – was very polite. She (K) commented that it wasn’t very effective.
No interrogations at Abu Ghreib led to anything.
Saddam’s capture was due to bribes to locals.
Sleeping bag guy believed the order was legal.
Someone high up is picking panels for court-marshals. Gen Cradock reviewed inspector-general order & decided not to reprimand Miller.
Cradock is aide to SecDef.
Aggressive hinting at high level coverups.
Guantanimo has nondi signed by all troops. Interrogation techniques came from there.
Untrained troops – reserves.
She felt personally “screwed” by Sanchez who would’t give resources.
Thinks MI selected inexperienced troops a la Grainer.
Every night contractors – whose names he never got – scared them working the night shift. And they were led to do the wrong thing by the mystery contractors.
CodePink speaker present claims that there is widespread torture based on her experience in two trips and direct contact with Iraqis who claimed to have been abused.
Karpinski says they held press conference to let locals know where they could find loved ones.
Got email re investigation 12 Jan & saw pix 23 Jan. No knowledge until then.
She unilaterally set up court to review & release prisoners who – on file review – seemed harmless.
She did meet an Israeli near the compound that held High Value prisoners. She thought he was Arab and asked him – he was in civilian clothes – and he answered, “No, I’m Israeli.”
Miller wanted to change name back from BCCF to Abu Ghreib to scare prisoners.
Gary deLand – contractor one of the keys.
Wolfowitz visited AG in August 03. Walked whole site – spent time walking around. He was thrilled with what was being one.
Rumsfeld comes a week later. Took a tour – saw torture chamber & hanging chamber & left.
She doesn’t feel responsible (in affect) she’s lashing out at her leadership. the crowd loves it – v. positive feedback.