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June 01, 2006

Janis Karpinski, unwrapped.

I'm sorry this is so long. I'm having a Cassandra moment. Indulge me.

I won't lie. I had an attitude when I ordered the book. I've always been just fine with the Commanding General of Abu Ghraib getting relieved. In these pages I've grumped that not enough officers have yet sat in the dock, accounting to a Court for their actions or inaction. I've noted the trials and convictions. I've mocked Karpinski's post-retirement embracing of the Moonbats as she acts like a camo'd Mother Sheehan. I was especially appalled by the Amazon page for her book - which I parodied here.

Then the damn book arrived, and I read it. I bought it used, via Amazon. It was surplused out of the Wilmington Public Library, and I got it for $3.95, plus shipping. Cover price is $24.95. Karpinski didn't see a dime of my money. Which, in the event, I'm still happy about, it being one of the most poorly edited and written books I've read in a long time. But then, I shouldn't be surprised, the imprint is that of Miramax Books, not exactly known for serious tomes and I doubt the home of a decently informed (on military affairs) editor. However the book was just poorly edited, period. It suffers from loss of narrative by jumping around a lot, and what I can only assume were assistant writer Steven Strasser's attempts to make military jargon fall more pleasantly on untuned civilian ears. All I know is it makes for 'squirm-in-the-seat' reading when a Command and General Staff College graduate continually refers to "Army Battle Divisions" which I am pretty sure is terminology she didn't use. No one in the Army, much less a 25 year veteran, talks about "Battle Divisions." But that's just me. Maybe things are different out there in the Real Army vice where I live and work at Fort Leavenworth... but I doubt it.

The book jacket as I received it is correct, vice how it appears on Amazon - it does *not* say "General Janis Karpinski, as does the Amazon cover - which undoubtedly dates from the pre-publication pre-order listing. I'll credit Karpinski with probably getting that changed. I hope so. It's only a one-word change - but it represents a lot in terms of credibility.

Anyway, I read the damn book.

It was, despite its flaws, a fascinating read.

And I believe, based on her own words, she deserved to be relieved, and probably not prosecuted for dereliction. It's a hard world out there, when the blood is sticky on the pavement, and she simply failed. The fact that almost anyone with her experience and in her position would probably have failed isn't relevant. She failed, and to me, confirms that with her own words.

If you're still interested, the rest is in the Flash Traffic/Extended Entry.

Karpinski's career runs parallel to mine, in terms of the time we spent in service. And our early careers crossed paths a few times. Her descriptions of Fort McClellan as "dyke central" during the late 70's matched mine, when I was a basic training company XO there, of an all-female basic training company. It was a fascinating place.

Her descriptions of the obstacles she faced as a female officer in many ways matched my observations of what happened in the Army during that period, both as a male watching from the relative outside, and as the husband of a female officer, listening to her experiences and concerns. Much of what happened to Karpinski in that regard, and how she dealt with it, rings absolutely true. I think she over-generalizes some things, especially in her "little gun" vice "big gun" description of male officers in the MP Corps vice Infantry, but I admit I wasn't an MP.

She obviously liked the Army and the soldiers, yet she got out at the 10 year point and worked on her own and as a DA civilian. Some of her dealings with the sexual harassment played into that decision I think - but I also think she managed to be amazingly naive about things - a trait which probably is at the core of her eventual foundering on the rocks of Abu Ghraib.

Her Desert Storm experience was an interesting window to that conflict - especially since she did it as a mobilized Reservist. Her discussions of the Regular/Reserve tension ring true, if with a bit of a chip on her shoulder. I'm one of those Regulars who were always pounding on my compatriots about the abusive tone they took about Reservists in general, vice just the slugs who earned it - and Karpinski has no use for those slugs, either.

I suspect I would have liked working with her, and eventually, for her. Full-disclosure - she made it farther than I did, and not just because my health failed me - I think she earned her promotion to Brigadier General, inasmuch as anyone does. Reality - there's a huge element of luck (at least with the Regulars). If all the promotable Colonels were killed in an airplane crash, they could be replaced instantly from the same pool of eligibles with no real loss in quality. (Keep the snarks to a minimum, please) I've gotten several emails from soldiers who served with her, especially as it was all breaking, who supported her whole-heartedly and spoke well of her. From reading Karpinski's book, it all fits together.

I think Karpinski truly believes she got relieved not only as a scapegoat over Abu Ghraib, but also because she was a female general treading in the turf of the male warfighters.

I would have relieved Omar Bradley if he had been in command at Abu Ghraib. Based solely upon what she says in the book. Strip out the gender tension; apply only her narrative and description, and I would have relieved anyone in her position.

That doesn't diminish in any way what she has to say about her relationship with MG (now commanding at Fort Benning) Wojadowski, or LTG (still commanding V Corps, Germany) Sanchez. If I take all of her descriptions at face value (and I've had conversations with senior officers in just the tone she describes) I still would have relieved her. Or of her very real problems with how the chain of command was structured, and her sharing of authority but seemingly not responsibility with Colonel Pappas.

She was the confluence of command responsibility. And she paid the commander's price for failure. Whether or not others should also pay is a story yet to be written. Colonel Thomas Pappas, who commanded the interrogators of the 205th MI Brigade, took an Article 15 proceeding vice a Courts Martial for dereliction. His career ended in a whimper and a fine. LTC Jordan, one of Pappas' officers, is facing a Court for his role in the events at Abu Ghraib. Several of the NCOs and other soldiers involved have gone to jail, as well as the two most infamous players in the drama, Charles Graner and Lynndie England. LTC Jerry Phillabaum, who commanded the 320th MP Battalion at Abu Ghraib was removed from the promotion list and thus had his career end badly over the issue. The reality is, the farther you ripple out from an event like this, the harder it is to pin *criminal* vice command, responsibility. And the farther away the command lies from the epicenter - absent smoking gun policy documents, orders, etc, the harder it is to justify outright relief, vice a quiet end to a career. In that regard it will be instructive to see if LTG Sanchez retires from V Corps, or moves on to a different job and an eventual fourth star, as his predecessor at V Corps, GEN Scott Wallace, who now has his 4th star and command of TRADOC. I'm not read in, but I'm guessing LTG Sanchez, widely considered competitive for a 4th star before Abu Ghraib, goes to Fort Livingroom as a 3 star.

I think Karpinski is also correct in that the situation is indicative of more systemic problems with our post-war planning and EPW/Unlawful Combatant/Combat Intelligence arena than it is just an aberrant bunch of soldiers having a "good time" at prisoner's expense. And *that* is also a failure of command climate. For which Karpinski is proximately to blame - as are others. Let's let her speak for herself.

From page 4, the introduction.


The best and worst aspects of my military career came together in Iraq. I had prepared for the challenge by serving in some of the Army's toughest male precincts, earning my parachute wings and a Bronze Star for my role in the first Gulf War. I served for years in the Middle East, not only as a soldier but as a diplomat training young Arab women to bear arms for their country. In Iraq, I became the first female general ever to command soldiers in a combat zone. But I also faced a crisis that ranked as the most devastating of my life - though its circumstances did not seem completely unfamiliar to a woman serving in the military. When things went wrong at the Abu Ghraib prison, nobody stood out as a more convenient target than the female general who looked so out of place from the perspective of all those male warriors. If my superiors expected me to accept their version of events and go away meekly, they made a mistake of strategic proportions. As the commander of the military police soldiers throughout Iraq, I accept my share of the responsibility for the abuses committed by some of them who worked the night shift in cellblock IA at Abu Ghraib. But I do not accept the aspersions cast upon the great majority of soldiers who worked at Abu Ghraib and other prisons. Nor do I accept my assigned role as the sacrificial lamb of the tale.

On of my goals in this book is to give my side of the story. The abuses at Abu Ghraib were indeed an aberration. But they were not the work of a few wayward soldiers and their female leader. They were the result of conflicting orders and confused standards extending from the military commanders in Iraq all the way to the summit of civilian leadership in Washington. A year after the Abu Ghraib photographs appeared on television screens, this point hardly needs arguing. The scandal has spread from Abu Ghraib to the far corners of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, involving military people, CIA agents, and other civilians. Anyone fighting the counterterrorist war in the Middle East had a clear mandate - to extract actionable intelligence for use against our terrorist enemies and a growing Iraqi insurgency - but only fuzzy rules of engagement. That was a recipe for 'taking off the gloves' in interrogations, and almost inevitably for prisoner abuse.

They were the result of conflicting orders and confused standards extending from the military commanders in Iraq all the way to the summit of civilian leadership in Washington. True enough, probably. And Janis Karpinski was at the juncture where it all came together. And she failed. She, like most of the players in this sad story, took the path of least resistance, which helped lead to the abuses at Abu Ghraib. As did Phillabaum and Pappas - both of whom paid a similar price to Karpinski. Did she ever stomp her foot and precipitate the necessary crisis? No, she didn't. She didn't lay her career on the line - for lots of reasons, all of which are easy to rationalize away - and which all of us in command have, at one time or another faced, and most of them we too, rationalized away. It's easy to see it in retrospect, much harder to see in the event.

In her own words from page 212, after a discussion of the litany of subordinate leadership failures and weaknesses:

In retrospect, I have asked myself whether I was tough enough with these subordinates and in my whole approach to leadership at Abu Ghraib. Did I spend too much effort trying to take care of my soldiers and devote too little attention to training and disciplining them?

The way she asks the question reveals part of the problem. Taking care of soldiers is not an element of leadership and command responsibility that is somehow distinct from training and discipline. They are part and parcel of the same thing, no more separable than arms and legs from the body - if you want a fully functioning body.

She goes on:

The honest answer is that these soldiers should have been better trained. Sent to Iraq on short notice in the middle of a war, we had tried to muddle through on the skills we already had: maintaining temporary camps and caring for prisoners of war. I should have found some way to better prepare these young MPs for the much tougher challenges of hardened criminals and terrorists against a background of whistling mortar shells. They thoroughly understood their responsibilities under the Geneva-Hague conventions, but only in the context of routine EPW operations. At Bug Ghraib, when intelligence interrogators encouraged them to "soften-up" terrorists suspected of plotting against our country, they had no relevant training to fall back on , no standards for how to both respect prisoner' rights and "take the gloves off" against terrorists.

And that was your responsibility, Colonel. And that of your subordinate commanders. All of whom have paid a price, in one way or another, for that failure. As they should.

She continues:

I should have anticipated what was coming. Throughout our months of handling prisoners, we had respectful relations with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which conducted regular inspection visits to our prisons. When the ICRC inspectors complained about bad sewage at one facility or that prisoners were getting too little exercise at another, we fixed the problems. In mid-October--before the 372nd arrived on the scene [the company with SPC Graner and PVT England in it. ed.] the ICRC visited cellblock 1A at Abu Ghraib and found detainees kept naked in dark, empty cells. A military intelligence officer told the inspectors that the prisoners would be "drip-fed" their clothing, bedding, and hygiene articles to the extent they cooperated with the interrogators. The ICRC inspectors noted that some prisoners had been issued women's underwear in an effort to humiliate them. Some of the CJTF7 officers go a good laugh out of that one. "I told Colonel Pappas to stop sending those prisoners Victoria's Secret catalogs,” one reportedly said.

When I talked to Pappas about these conditions, he told me all the procedures used in cellblock 1A were approved. Some prisoners took off their clothing because they were hot, he said, and some as a protest; in other case, solders removed the clothing because a detainee might have used it to hang himself. His explanations sounded reasonable to me. But I should have asked: How are my MPs being used in cellblock 1A, and do they have appropriate standards of behavior?

Should I have enforced discipline like Sanchez, haranguing subordinates and poling them in the chest? That has never been my style and never will be. Bullying soldiers, pushing them to give what they can't give, is counterproductive. My style is to communicate in an adult way, clearly and reasonably, making sure that subordinates understand their responsibilities and the consequences of any failure and they respond appropriately. If a leader respects the limits of where her soldiers can do, sometimes they will [emphasis in original] accomplish the impossible.

There is a time to communicate "in an adult way" Colonel Karpinski. And a time to just make sure you communicate effectively. Peacetime methods under the pressure of wartime exigencies sometimes call for the Command to COMMAND, not build consensus. And your failure to grasp that is why you were relieved.

The vacating of her promotion to Brigadier is the other element of this story that is a bit more confusing, given the absence of any criminal proceeding against Colonel Karpinski. All of us who hold commissions hold them at the pleasure of the President of the United States. Technically, *each* promotion in grade is also a new commission. In the not-so-distant past, you actually got a new commission document when you were promoted. There are procedural and legal safeguards for an officer affording due process against adverse actions up to and including those of the Secretary of Defense. However, the President can terminate a commission at will. They are the property and perogative of the office, subject pretty much only to the Constitutional restrictions emplaced by the Oath of Commissioning. The President routinely delegates his authority to the various Secretarys in these matters. But the ultimate power rests in the Office of the President.

Colonel Karpinski explains the shoplifting incident and its subsequent resolution in her favor. I see no reason to doubt her word on the subject. And she describes the devastation she felt when informed her promotion had been vacated. She does not go into the details - essentially dismissing it as a legal, but unjustified act of vindictiveness.

As I understand it, as a part of the vetting process for promotion to general officer, the officer in question has to fill out a questionaire similar to those for security clearances or other high government appointments. Allegedly, Colonel Karpinski failed to note her apprehension for the shoplifting incident on the form (a requirement to note all arrests, except for routine traffic problems is, regardless of subsequent adjudication of guilt or innocence a routine requirement for background checks), and that was used as the basis for vacating her promotion, because had she noted it, she would not have been promoted until the issue was investigated and cleared, and failure to note it is grounds for refusing the promotion. I'm sure Colonel Karpinski suspects (and I would agree) that had she not been the lightning rod for Abu Ghraib, that little mistake would have been overlooked, or at least not caught. Whether or not that's the case, I don't know. I'm sure there is at least a grain of truth there.

So, where does this leave me? I believe Colonel Karpinski's own words justify her relief. Life is hard in a combat zone, and much is expected from those to whom much is given in terms of rank and responsibility. That others above her should suffer? Perhaps, but her book provides no new evidence in support of that contention, though I am *always* interested in General Officer scalps. I wish the book was documented, rather than a rambling conversation, but that is probably asking for too much at this point. I see no reason to go after Karpinski criminally, and I think the fact that Colonel Pappas *was* hit with a criminal sanction (albeit a mild one) and Colonel Karpinski was not reflects the senior leadership's assessment that he held a greater personal culpability than did Colonel Karpinski. Karpinski still doesn't really get it - which is part and parcel of that blind spot that got her relieved.

The book was worth what I paid for it. It is also a useful work in that it *is* a window into the military culture of the 80's and 90's as seen by a female officer with a justifiable chip on her shoulder about how she was treated (and rings true to my personal experience as well).

As for a defense of Janis Karpinski as commander of the 800th MP Brigade? No. Not a defense. A presentation for mitigation and extenuation, i.e., the punishment phase, yes. A Defense? No. By her own words she condemns herself. But I'm glad I read it - it has reduced some of my ire with her and redirected it elsewhere.

That said - she shames herself by her embrace of the Moonbat Anti-war crowd and her continued spreading of the "women died of dehydration because they were afraid to go out alone" canard.

Mother Sheehan in camo, indeed. And that's too bad.