Marjorie Cohn / t r u t h o u t | Perspective – 2005-08-27 23:37:57
I had been hesitant to speak out before because this Administration is so vindictive. But now I will … Anybody who confronts this Administration or Rumsfeld or the Pentagon with a true assessment, they find themselves either out of a job, out of their positions, fired, relieved or chastised. Their career comes to an end.
— Janis Karpinski, interview with Marjorie Cohn, August 3, 2005
Abu Ghraib General Lambasts Bush Administration
Marjorie Cohn / t r u t h o u t | Perspective
(August 23, 2005) — Army Reserve Brigadier General Janis Karpinski was in charge of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq when the now famous torture photographs were taken in fall of 2003. She was reprimanded and demoted to Colonel for her failure to properly supervise the prison guards. Karpinski is the highest ranking officer to be sanctioned for the mistreatment of prisoners.
On August 3, 2005, I interviewed Janis Karpinski. In the most comprehensive public statement she has made to date, Karpinski deconstructs the entire United States military operation in Iraq with some astonishing revelations.
When Karpinski got to Abu Ghraib, “there was a completely different story than what we were being told in the United States. It was out of control. There weren’t enough soldiers. Nobody had the right equipment. They were driving around in unarmored vehicles, some of them without doors … So, knowing that they were ill-equipped and ill-prepared, they pushed them out anyway, because those two three-stars wanted their fifteen minutes of fame, I suppose.”
Karpinski said that General Shinseki briefed Rumsfeld that “he can’t win this war, if they insist on invading Iraq, he can’t win this war with less than 300,000 soldiers.” Rumsfeld reportedly ordered Shinseki to go back and find a way to do this with 125,000 to 130,000, but Shinseki came back and said they couldn’t do the job with that number.
“What did Rumsfeld do?” Karpinski asked rhetorically. “If you can’t agree with me, I’m going to find somebody who can. He made Shinseki a lame duck, for all practical purposes, and brought in Schoomaker. And Schoomaker got it. He said, ‘Oh yes sir, we can do this with 125,000.'”
Karpinski says she did not know about the torture occurring in Cellblocks 1-A and 1-B at Abu Ghraib because it took place at night. She didn’t live at Abu Ghraib, and nobody was permitted to travel at night due to the dangerous road conditions.
The first she heard about the torture was on January 12, 2004. She was never allowed to speak to the people who had worked on the night shift. She “was told by Colonel Warren, the JAG officer for General Sanchez, that they weren’t assigned to me, that they were not under my control, and I really had no right to see them.”
When Karpinski inquired, “What’s this about photographs?” the sergeant replied, “Ma’am, we’ve heard something about photographs, but I have no idea. Nobody has any details, and Ma’am, if anybody knows, nobody is talking.” When Karpinski asked to see the log books, the sergeant told her that the Criminal Investigation Division had taken everything except for something on a pole outside the little office they were using.
“It was a memorandum signed by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, authorizing a short list, maybe 6 or 8 techniques: use of dogs; stress positions; loud music; deprivation of food; keeping the lights on, those kinds of things,” Karpinski said. “And then a handwritten message over to the side that appeared to be the same handwriting as the signature, and that signature was Secretary Rumsfeld’s. And it said, ‘Make sure this happens’ with two exclamation points. And that was the only thing they had. Everything else had been confiscated.”
“Nobody Knew Anything…
At Least That’s What They Were Claiming”
Karpinski tried to get information, but “nobody knew anything, nobody — at least, that’s what they were claiming. The Company Commander, Captain Reese, was tearful in my office and repeatedly told me he knew nothing about it, knew nothing about it,” Karpinski said. But in a later plea bargain he entered into after the Taguba Report came out, “Captain Reese said that not only did he know about it, but he was told not to report it to his chain of command, and he was told that by Colonel Pappas. And he claimed that he saw General Sanchez out there on several occasions witnessing the torture of some of the security detainees.”
The first time Karpinski got any clarification about the photographs was January 23, 2004. The criminal investigator, Colonel Marcelo, came into Karpinski’s office and showed her the pictures. “When I saw the pictures I was floored,” Karpinski said. “Really, the world was spinning out of control when I saw those pictures, because it was so far beyond and outside of what I imagined. I thought that maybe some soldiers had taken some pictures of prisoners behind barbed wire or in their cell or something like that. I couldn’t imagine anything like what I saw in those photographs.”
Marcelo told her, “Ma’am, I’m supposed to tell you after you see the photographs that General Sanchez wants to see you in his office.” So Karpinski went over to see Sanchez. She said that “before I even saw the photographs, I was preparing words to say in a press conference — to be up front, to be honest about this, that an investigation is ongoing and there are some allegations of detainee abuse.”
“You Are Not to Discuss This with Anyone”
But Sanchez told Karpinski, “‘No, absolutely not. You are not to discuss this with anyone.’ And I should have known then,” she said, “and I know that Sanchez was hopeful for a four-star promotion even then, in January of 2004. And I thought it had probably most to do with the election coming up in November 2004, and that this could really move the Administration out of the White House if it was exploited. So naively, I just thought, you know, they’re going to let this investigation go and they’re going to handle it the way it should be handled.”
Karpinski said, however, “The truth has been uncovered, but it’s been suffocated and it has not been released with the results of the investigation.” She added, “McClellan and Rumsfeld can get up on their high horse and say that there’ve been no fewer than 15 investigations that were conducted.
But every one of those investigations is under the control of the Secretary of Defense. And every one of those investigations is run and led by a person who can lose their job under Rumsfeld’s fist.”
“We’re never going to know the truth until they do an independent commission or look into this independently,” Karpinski maintains. “This is about instructions delivered with full authority and knowledge of the Secretary of Defense and probably Cheney. I don’t know if the President was involved or not. I don’t care. All I know is, those instructions were communicated from the Secretary of Defense’s office, from the Pentagon, through Cambone, through Miller, to Abu Ghraib.”
Karpinski describes what happened when General Geoffrey Miller arrived at Abu Ghraib: “The most pronounced difference was when Miller came to visit. He came right after Rumsfeld’s visit … And he said that he was going to use a template from Guantánamo Bay to ‘Gitmo-ize’ the operations out at Abu Ghraib.”
“These torture techniques were being implemented and used down at Guantánamo Bay and, of course, now we have lots of statements that say they were used in Afghanistan as well,” Karpinski said. Although Miller has sworn he was just an “advisor,” Miller told Karpinski he wanted Abu Ghraib. Karpinski replied, “Abu Ghraib is not mine to give to you. It belongs to Ambassador Bremer. It is going to be turned over to the Iraqis.”
Miller replied, “No it is not. I want that facility and Rick Sanchez said I can have any facility I want.” Karpinski said, “Miller obviously had the full authority of somebody, you know, likely Cambone or Rumsfeld in Washington, DC.”
Miller’s representative, General Fast, turned the prison over to the Military Intelligence brigade for complete command and control, Karpinski said. “There was no coordination with me or Colonel Pappas. There was no discussion about chain of command.”
Abu Ghraib housed primarily Iraqi criminals. Although many of the “security detainees” were kept at Abu Ghraib, most of the interrogations took place at a higher-value detention facility in Baghdad, according to Karpinski.
The Army discriminates against the reservists in general, and female officers in particular, Karpinski said. “It’s really a good old boys’ network,” she said. “Come hell or high water, they’re going to maintain the status quo.” While she was made the scapegoat for the torture at Abu Ghraib, Karpinski said, no one above her in the chain of command has been reprimanded.
Karpinski reveals that there was “no sustainment plan” because “there were a lot of contractors — US contractors exclusively — who realized they could make a lot of money in Iraq.” At the Coalition Provisional Authority, Karpinski “saw corruption like I’ve never seen before — millions of dollars just being pocketed by contractors. Everything was on a cash basis at that time,” she said. “You take a request down — literally, you take a request to the Finance Office. If the Pay Officer recognized your face and you were asking for $450,000 to pay a contractor for work, they would pay you in cash: $450,000. Out of control.”
Speaking about the war, Karpinski said, “Iraq was a huge country, and when you have people largely saying now, ‘He may have been a dictator, but we were better under Saddam,’ this Administration needs to take notice. And at some point you have to say, ‘Stop the train, because it’s completely derailed. How do we fix it?’ But in an effort to do that, you have to admit that you made a few mistakes, and this Administration is not willing to admit any mistakes whatsoever.”
Janis Karpinski is no longer in the military. She is writing a book that will be published by Miramax in November. In April, she received a form letter from the Chief of the Army Reserves, “warning me — warning me — about speaking about Abu Ghraib, and that everything was still under investigation.” She then got “a letter saying that he understands that I’m writing a book and I should submit the transcript for review.”
“And my lawyer responded simply by telling him that I was a private citizen and I don’t fall under the same requirements, which he had to acknowledge, because that’s true. I’m not ignorant, and I’m not going to reveal any classified information in anything I write,” Karpinski said, “but I don’t need to, because the truth is the truth, and it doesn’t have to be classified. It is definitely staggering, but the truth is the truth.”
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