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June 3, 2004
Karpinski Dodges Responsibility

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the commanding officer of the Abu Ghraib unit where American soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners, has decided that the best defense is a good offense and actively courts the media to respond to their allegations and questions. Today's Los Angeles Times has a profile of Karpinski in which the general takes the decidedly un-military position of refusing responsibility for the actions of her unit:

The woman who commanded the Army Reserve's 800th Military Police Brigade and supervised the guards at Iraq's infamous Abu Ghraib prison has become one of the most recognizable and relentlessly pursued players in an erupting international scandal over prisoner abuse.

In part, that's because Karpinski has not followed the route of the traditional commander who stoically accepts responsibility for failure on her watch and quietly retires. Instead, Karpinski has actively cooperated and sometimes sought out the media in a one-woman campaign to defend herself.

She is quoted regularly in major newspapers. She has made herself a ubiquitous figure on the talk show circuit from ABC's "Good Morning America" to MSNBC's "Hardball" refusing to be blamed for interrogation practices she insists she never would have allowed and human rights abuses that "sickened" her.

Karpinski, in this article, declines to accept any responsibility whatsoever for the actions of her soldiers. Instead, she claims that since military intelligence "took over" that wing of Abu Ghraib, she had no control over what happened at the prison. She has not been shy about point fingers upwards as well as laterally in an effort to shift blame off of her reserve command. The Times makes quite an effort to assist her along these lines, noting several times that she is primarily a "civilian" with management-consultant experience, and that it is her civilian experience which informs her response to the investigation. The Times doesn't hesitate to play the martyr card, either, noting in its lead paragraph Karpinski's reluctance to dine out publicly for her birthday, and later in the article Karpinski's fear that people will try to harm her or her family.

This article is utter nonsense. Regardless of one's civilian job, once you've been activated in the reserves, you're in the military -- and no one rises to the rank of general in or out of the reserves without knowing how to operate within that culture. That level demands a mix of military and political skills not seen at the junior-officer level, where reservists can do their one weekend a month without being "military", whatever the hell that means.

No, Karpinski knows the military culture well enough to have been spectacularly successful at it prior to Abu Ghraib, but in the performance of her unit, one has to wonder how. In a New York Times article from last week, her unit was exposed as having tremendous discipline problems which went chronically unaddressed or underaddressed. That lack of discipline (on which I posted) directly led to the orgy of sexual and physical abuses photographed and videotaped by the guards themselves, specifically one shift of the Abu Ghraib contingent. Discipline of her unit was unquestionably Karpinski's responsibility:

In the six months leading up to the investigation of prison abuses at Abu Ghraib, three of the seven soldiers now charged with abuse repeatedly committed infractions and disobeyed orders but received only the mildest of punishments.

Their violations of military rules included entering buildings they had been ordered to avoid, continuing improper sexual relations with one another and being aggressive with detainees, according to records obtained by The New York Times. ... Among [Taguba's] concerns were flippant comments in logbooks, lack of standards for uniforms and soldiers who wrote poems and other sayings on their headgear. General Taguba also raised concerns about officers and senior noncommissioned officers who had been disciplined for drinking, taking nude pictures of soldiers without their knowledge and fraternizing with junior soldiers.

Perhaps Karpinski can explain how she, as commanding officer, allowed this breakdown in discipline to occur. She claims she wasn't trained to run a prison, but one should assume that she received training on proper respect for authority. Can she explain, then, why Spec. Charles Graner was allowed to remain on duty after refusing a direct order seven times? After telling his sergeant to "kiss his ass"? Can she explain how Pvt. Lynndie England avoided court-martial for months despite being ordered on several occasions to stop sleeping with men in her unit? Why did an anonymous soldier have to go outside of Karpinski's chain of command to report on the abuses; was it because the soldier knew nothing much would be done under Karpinski's command?

The Times' Faye Fiore emphasizes Karpinski's civilian experience in the general's determination not to stoically remain silent while being blamed for the fiasco. However, as a civilian manager myself, I am held responsible when my employees foul up; it's the nature of hierarchical management structures, and without that, management becomes pointless. In the military, where matters involve life-and-death decisions, senior officers must own their unit's performance. It's obvious that Karpinksi doesn't have the first clue about management or responsibility if she intends on trying to convince people she had nothing to do with the performance of soldiers under her command.

Interestingly, the Army has not told her to remain silent; I suspect that they believe the more of these articles that supposedly appear on her behalf, the easier it will be for the Pentagon to fire her once the investigation is over. Whoever promoted her should be next out the door.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 3, 2004 6:35 AM

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» I'm just the commanding general around here, don't blame me for what happened! from Spartacus
Captain Ed from Captain's Quarters has a good post about that sorry excuse for an officer Big. Gen. Janis Karpinski.   He quite correctly tears to shreds her protestations that she was not responsible for what soldiers under her command did at Abu... [Read More]

Tracked on June 4, 2004 9:27 AM



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