Janis Karpinski Interview : Part 1

August 27th, 2005 - by admin

Marjorie Cohn / t r u t h o u t | Interview – 2005-08-27 23:44:07


MC: General Karpinski, thank you for agreeing to talk to me today.

JK: I had been hesitant to speak out before because this Administration is so vindictive. But now I will.

Despite years of this pronouncement that it’s an “army of one,” we reservists were absolutely discriminated against. The people at the senior levels of the reserve components, the Chief of the Army Reserve, for example, a three-star, never made so much as one phone call, never exchanged one word with me in all of this. Twice, my lawyer requested a meeting with him face-to-face in Washington, DC, and he declined. He denied both of those requests.

It’s really a good old boys’ network. Come hell or high water, they’re going to maintain the status quo. They all live by each other in Fort Myers, or near Fort Myers. I’m sure that they have these cigar-smoking sessions where they’re all patting each other on the back that they got another female out of the way, before I was able to get higher up in the senior levels. But I always expected that reservists would find support from their own component, and not be tagged as bad apples. For myself, there was not any support whatsoever.

I just find it incredible that the system – the Pentagon and the Judicial System – can continue to keep those soldiers in jail when there are simply volumes of documents and information that is emerging, and continues to emerge, that says exactly what one, in particular, Graner, was saying all along: that he was ordered to do these things by the Military Intelligence people and the interrogators, the contract interrogators. And there’s more and more information to support that. The recommendation was that General Miller from Gitmo be reprimanded and his four-star commander from SOUTHCOM said no, I don’t agree with that.

MC: And General Geoffrey Miller was the one who was supposed to transplant those interrogation and torture techniques from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib?

JK: That’s correct. There are sworn statements, not only from the interrogators and the FBI personnel down at Guantánamo Bay prior to even a thought of using Abu Ghraib for a prison location. 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.

In late August and September of 2003, Miller comes to visit, then everything starts to change, to include transferring the responsibility for Abu Ghraib over to the Military Intelligence people altogether. And it’s been substantiated through an investigation that these torture practices were developed and implemented down in Guantánamo Bay and then they were imported to Abu Ghraib.

They’re holding these soldiers responsible for one time on the night shift coming up with these pranks. Give me a break! It’s so unfair to continue to blame those soldiers. You know, I would be the first one to say to anybody that Graner and Fredericks, as noncommissioned officers – they crossed the line. Graner punched a prisoner in the chest so hard, to get him under control, the guy passed out. Fredericks stepped on feet and hands and everything else. And they didn’t report what they knew were violations of the Geneva Conventions. They didn’t report those things to the chain of command.

Now I’ve been held accountable for that, but never once, Marjorie, never once have I had an opportunity to speak to any of those soldiers, because before I was even aware that there was an investigation going on or that there were photographs or anything else, those soldiers were removed from their positions at Abu Ghraib and taken away to Sanchez’s headquarters. And I was never allowed to speak to them. Never once.

MC: Why do you think you’re the highest officer who’s been punished?

JK: Well, I don’t know how else to say it, but I think I check a lot of blocks. Before the war got underway, before 9/11, Rumsfeld’s plan was to downsize the military – fewer, faster, more trained in Special Operations, never have to fight on two fronts again. He wanted to downsize the overall military. He wanted to return control of the military to the civilian sector. And the division commanders, at least in the Army, were opposed to that. And there were very selfish reasons for their opposition. If you were a division commander, you could pay back favors that were done for you, perhaps, to get you promoted or to put you into positions. You repay other graduates of the military academy – those kinds of things – by appointing them to command positions in your own division. So the more toys you have to play with, the bigger your division and the more likely that you’re going to be at the front of the pack when your promotion comes up. So that’s history.

Rumsfeld wanted to downsize the military, and the component chiefs were opposed to it. He sent them all back to their offices, and said, “Find a way to do this.” The only component that came up with a solution was the Marine Corps. Then he sent the Air Force, the Navy and the Army back to the drawing board, and then 9/11 happened. So they got a reprieve. And it was up to them to prove how important it was that they still needed big divisions and lots of equipment and all that other stuff.

Here’s Shinseki briefing 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. I wasn’t there to hear it, but allegedly Rumsfeld said to Shinseki: go back and find a way to do this with 125,000 to 150,000. Well, Shinseki came back again and said: Mr. Secretary we can’t do it with that number. You need 300,000.

What did Rumsfeld do? 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.”

Well, none of them had to go fight the war. None of them had to deploy and manage this small number. And everybody was under the impression that this war was going to be over very quickly. So there was no sustainment plan. And I’m selected for Brigadier General. I had a choice: I could either wait for my unit to come back to the United States and join the men, or I could deploy. I wanted to be with my unit in the field. I thought it would be a great opportunity to see how they would operate under field conditions in a theater of war.

When I got there, 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. Some of the soldiers didn’t even have protective vests. And I kept hearing the same excuse for reservists, for National Guard units: the active component was taking the equipment as a priority. We can’t get it over here.

And then layer on top of that, there was no personnel replacement system for the Reserves and the National Guard. So if I lost a soldier to an illness, a nervous breakdown, a battle injury, whatever it might be, I operated one short, or ten short, or thirty short, or sixty short. I didn’t mobilize these units. I didn’t deploy these units. I joined them in theater. The responsibility for how those units were deployed and how they were ill-prepared rests with the senior level of leadership in the military.

MC: And when you say “senior level,” who do you mean?

JK: I mean the Chief of the Army Reserves, the Chief of the National Guard here, who is the only general officer in all of this who has admitted that they had no idea. I think it was General Bloom, he’s a three-star. I don’t even know if he still is Chief of the National Guard. But he admitted that they had no idea that the units were going to be deployed for anything, the length of time that it started to appear that they were going to be deployed. So they pushed them out of the mobilization stations, because they knew that the units would somehow manage once they got into Iraq. 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.

But Bloom, at least, stepped up to the plate and took responsibility. Helmsley, who allowed these units to deploy, who came up with this harebrained scheme about cross-welling soldiers and serving with complete strangers – he has never taken responsibility for anything. And neither has the Pentagon.

More than a year ago, that brave soldier stood up and said to Rumsfeld, “Why don’t we have the right equipment? Why are we still going out with unarmored vehicles?” Rumsfeld made that infamous comment that was: you go to war with the units that you have, not necessarily the ones you want. Well, how about a slap in the face? But he’s never been held accountable for that.

And the man, the officer who stopped requests for armored vehicles and stopped requests for protective vests to be prioritized is now the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Cody. He’s a four-star. He was a three-star. He was in charge of logistics, and he disapproved any additional requests for vehicles or protective equipment for our soldiers. He was promoted. He is a four-star, and he is the Chief of Staff of the Army today.

That’s how Rumsfeld and the Pentagon reward people who are in agreement with them. I don’t know how else to say it. Shinseki, who was telling Rumsfeld the truth – he was retired.

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.

MC: What is your current status?

JK: I am retired from the military.

MC: You wrote in an e-mail: “The techniques are a clear departure from what soldiers are taught and understand, the techniques that were directed by the highest level of this Administration.” By that, you mean all the way up to the Oval Office?

JK: I mean all the way up to Cheney. I don’t know the workings of how it gets up there. But I would think that, very similar to any other big corporation or the military, that if you have a deputy – or a Vice President, in this case – and he is making decisions or approvals, then maybe by default you will say, “If I didn’t know, I should have known,” or “I did know.” Because he’s your Vice President. Or he is the Vice President. Or he is the Secretary of Defense. I don’t know what they are telling the President. And I don’t care. He’s the President, and he’s supposed to know what’s going on in this Administration, and honestly, sometimes it doesn’t seem like he does.

MC: How are the techniques a clear departure from what soldiers are taught and understand?

JK: Well, I can tell you that Military Police soldiers (I don’t care what component they’re from: National Guard, Reserve or active duty) – in fact, when it comes to the Geneva Conventions and fair and humane treatment of prisoners, Reserve and National Guard units are better, because it is a mission. A prisoner of war operation and internment resettlement and refugee operations – it was never a mission that the active component wanted to embrace. They wanted the National Guard and the Reserve Units to take those missions. They thought it was an insult to them to have to do those kinds of missions. So in my opinion, the reservists and the National Guard Units were better equipped, better trained, and fully aware of the Geneva Conventions and the requirements of how to treat prisoners of war fairly and humanely.

They changed the mission. They assigned a new detention mission to the 800th MP brigade and relocated most of the units from the prisoner of war camp, which was winding down from May onwards, and moved them, pushed them up into Iraq, to perform this new mission of detention operations. We were told – I was told – that it was going to be assisting Bremer’s headquarters, the Coalition Provisional Authority, with restoring prisons and jails and getting the Iraqi prisoners back under lock and key because they were disrupting operations, etc. etc.

So despite the fact that Iraqi criminals – detention operations – are different from prisoner of war operations (they have a different mind set of a criminal, if you will), the MPs were assigned this mission. There was absolutely no discussion whatsoever to see if the units were properly equipped, if they had appropriate training. Twice I approached the two-star, a guy by the name of Cruser [sp?], he’s a Major General Reservist. Twice I went to him and I said, “This is not our mission.” And he said to me, as almost to dismiss me out of his office, he said, “Yes, I know Janis, but you’re the closest we’ve got from detention MP, so you guys have the mission.” Not, you know, we don’t have the right equipment; not, we don’t have the right training, we don’t have the right background. He didn’t care.

MC: You said that Iraqi detention is different than POWs, that there’s a criminal mind set. Could you explain it a little bit more?

JK: Well, when you have prisoner of war operations or refugee resettlement operations, and there’s a war going on, prisoners of war know and understand, and they see it exhibited by the military police soldiers, that they are going to be treated fairly and humanely, and that the enemy – the people detaining them – are not going to be living in high-rise hotels while they’re in these prison camps. Everybody they see – the MPs and the soldiers who are guarding them – are living at the same level that they are. So if there’s a ration of water of two liters a day, the prisoners get the same ration that the soldiers get. If they’re living in outside tents, the soldiers are likewise living in outside tents and cow towns. There’s no air conditioning. There is no laundry service. There are no rental cars. And prisoners of war understand that. They know that they are only going to be held as combatants until the war is over, so their mind set is different. They are generally under control.

Nobody likes to be held against their will. But enemy combatants understand that, in the course of war, if they’re captured, then they’re held in a prisoner of war camp and will be treated humanely until the war is over and then they can go home. That’s how prisoner of war operations work, and that’s the mind set, I would say, of an average soldier, pretty much, and 75 percent of the free world.

Iraqi criminals, on the other hand, if they’re violent criminals – whether it was under Saddam or now under US forces control – they might remain in jail for the rest of their lives. So they have 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to plot and to plan and to design ways to escape, ways to harass their keepers, ways to make life miserable for the MPs or the individuals who are detaining them.

The only reason we had any kind of control – I will tell you this flat out, up front – the only reason we had any kind of control in any of our prison facilities, Abu Ghraib aside, was because the MPs were taking the initiative and finding ways to accommodate the prisoners. It wasn’t because of the fine security of the prison facility. It was because the prisoners knew that the MPs were doing everything they could, everything in their power, to make life more acceptable for them while they were spending their days and nights incarcerated.

We had civilian so-called experts – contractors – under the Coalition Provisional Authority, who worked under the Ministry of Justice. Now these prison experts all had experience as wardens or as directors for prisons in the United States.

MC: Were some of them former US Special Forces?

JK: No, they were not. They were all civilians. There was only one of them who was retired from the military, and he was actually retired as a Military Police officer. But it’s just incredible that these three contractors that they brought over were hired by the Justice Department in Washington, and it was the same Justice Department – there aren’t two separate entities – it was the same Justice Department that, between 30 and 60 days before hiring these people to come to Baghdad, the same Justice Department had fired them from their positions in the Utah Corrections Facility for prisoner abuse.

And I didn’t know that when we were there. Nobody bothered to tell us that. But we were told that we were going to go up to Baghdad, we were going to relocate the headquarters up to Baghdad to assist the Prisons Department, under the Ministry of Justice, with this restoration of jails and prisons. Well, we got up there and there were three of them and one director. And they were looking at 121 different jails for us to run and operate. And I told them I don’t have that many MPs! I couldn’t put 3 MPs in each one of those facilities and run them. We have to find the biggest facilities, and that’s what they did. They eventually identified, I think they identified, 15 or 18 and we settled on 15 or 16.

MC: Why did they bring these civilian contractors? Why do you think they brought them over?

JK: Well, at that time, everybody was under the impression that the Coalition Provisional Authority was being run under the auspices of the State Department, and that the Iraqi Detention Operation was a function that would eventually be turned over to the Iraqis.

Well, that may have been true in some back room plan, that people had an idea that was going to be in place. But there was no plan. Because normally, prison operations and jail operations come with the restoration of peace and security. And that comes with a sustainment operation that follows combat operations. So on a backward timeline, when the war was declared over on the aircraft carrier, then sustainment operations – engineers, civilian contractors, military police, military police organizations – all those organizations kind of kick into high gear to get things moving down the same road. Well there was no sustainment plan. And I can tell you, Marjorie, my opinion is that there was no sustainment plan because, by that time, there were a lot of contractors – US contractors exclusively – who realized they could make a lot of money in Iraq.

MC: How did the enlisted soldiers feel about the contractors getting these fat paychecks?

JK: My soldiers were saying, I heard this often: “Ma’am, I want to get out of the Army and come back over here. I could be making five times the money that I’m making as a soldier. And these guys never go out and do anything. We’re doing all the work, and they’re drawing all the pay!” I heard it a dozen times a week from every level of soldier, every rank, in every one of my units. They could see it. They knew what was going on. Here’s these three contractors who are supposed to restore the prison system with the help of the military, and they never – I don’t want to say never – they hardly leave the confines of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

MC: Now did they play a role in the interrogations?

JK: No, they did not. The interrogations were separate and apart from Iraqi detention operations. The only role they played was, they were restoring Abu Ghraib. They were using funds from the Coalition Provisional Authority to restore the cells out at Abu Ghraib.

MC: So who was in charge of the interrogations at Abu Ghraib?

JK: The Military Intelligence.

MC: And you were reprimanded and demoted for failing to supervise the staff at Abu Ghraib, and you’ve said you were a scapegoat?

JK: Right.

MC: What do you mean by that?

JK: Well, I have to refer to a timeline. Miller comes, we have Abu Ghraib, and Abu Ghraib was a pile of rubble the first time I saw it. The only advantage of Abu Ghraib, the only advantage, was this 20-foot high retaining wall around the ground, acres and acres of the grounds of Abu Ghraib. So we had that as a security, first line of defense. But everything inside the prison at that time had been looted. Electrical systems, water systems, infrastructure, doors were gone. Blocks of concrete were removed from the interior section, the interior cells.

But I had a Company Commander who was commanding an MP unit out there, and he told me in July, “Ma’am, if you get us the resources we can at least hold prisoners here until the other facilities are restored.” So there was great opposition to that, because of the history of Abu Ghraib. But we proceeded with the encouragement and the support, to a limited extent, from Ambassador Bremer. Because we needed some place to put these Iraqi criminals that the divisions were policing in the course of their operations and attempted to get sustainment operations underway, throughout Iraq. So in August, the divisions were directed to undertake these – let me back up. At Abu Ghraib during July and the beginning of August 2003, we were holding several hundred prisoners.

MC: Were these prisoners of war?

JK: No, these were Iraqi criminals, because the war was over. So when the President declared the war over, there are no more prisoners of war. What we were policing then were Iraqi criminals.

MC: Had they all been arrested for crimes?

JK: Yes, they were. But some of them, most of them, the vast majority of them were minor crimes. They were missing curfew. They were subjected to a random inspection and a weapon was found in their trunks, they were looting, dealing gasoline, whatever. But they were minor crimes, nonviolent crimes, the majority of them.

In October and November, 2002, Saddam and his sons opened all of the jails and all of the prisons and released all of the prisoners to cause chaos as the Coalition advanced to Baghdad. And they did. These criminals, these criminal elements, did wreak havoc. So it was not unusual, when the divisions were out doing their operations or manning a checkpoint, that they would find a minor crime, minor criminals. And then, when they were turned over, sometimes the prisoners would even admit that they had been held under Saddam.

In all the thousands of prisoners that were turned over to our control, we only had one who came in with a prison record folded neatly in his wallet. Because they’re smart enough to not say, “Oh, I was a prisoner, I was a murderer, and I was being held for life under Saddam, so you got me.” You know, they were all, every prisoner was innocent.