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20 years

rigadier General Janis Leigh Karpinski, U.S. Army Reserve, has declared war on the United States military and its civilian leadership. Karpinski claims she has become a scapegoat for regular army generals who are more to blame for what happened at Abu Ghraib than she—and that she has been selected by the Pentagon and the Department of Defense to be the public face of disgrace for failed leadership. At least four U.S. Senators —two Democrats and two Republicans—agree. They are demanding that the military ferret out everyone—from private to general—that is responsible, and put them on trial.

One far left journalist, Seymour Hersh, quoting anonymous sources, claimed in a New Yorker article that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld personally approved the sexual abuse humiliation scheme. The Pentagon denied the allegation as "...outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with anonymous conjecture." What Rumsfeld did that was construed by Hersh as approving the interrogation techniques used at Abu Ghraib was to free up his local commanders, who are the eyes and ears on the ground, by giving them the discretion to make "field decisions" rather than running everything up the flagpole at the Pentagon and losing opportunities to nail the bad guys. Rumsfeld's decision was based on an incident in Afghanistan where GPS tracking pinpointed Osama bin Laden while he was talking on his satellite phone. The army finally had him in their crosshairs. However, rules of engagement put into place during the Clinton years required the local commander to get tactical approval from the Pentagon before they could take him out. Since killing him could have been construed as the assassination of a political leader—and likely would have been by the media to shunt the PR value for the Bush Administration—the Pentagon had to get a legal opinion from the JAG Corp. When the approval to take out bin Laden came down, the terrorist leader had already left that location. When the media reported, a few days later, that the army had targeted him through his sky phone, bin Laden never used it again.Shortly thereafter, Rumsfeld authorized local commanders to use their discretion to solve the problems of war in their local theatres of operation. That included the local commanders at Abu Ghraib and the other detention centers in the Iraqi prison system

Maj. Gen. Antonio M.Taguba, who authored the Article 15-6 Report on the abuses that took place in Abu Ghraib, depicted the one star general as an inept commander with poor communications skills who rubber-stamped lackadaisical investigations by her subordinates into detainee escapes from Abu Ghraib. Taguba said Karpinski understaffed the prisons under her command and exercised poor oversight over her soldiers. Karpinski—who has a Masters' Degree in Strategic Studies from the Army War College is considered an expert in international protocol and the Geneva Convention . Yet the enlisted military police under her command appear to have never been schooled in the rights detainees possess under that same Geneva Convention—even though they had been assigned specifically to guard enemy combatants and prisoners of war. Had they been properly instructed, it is likely that at least one or more of the enlisted personnel from the 372nd Military Police Company, would have recognized that the abuses they were heaping on the detainees at Abu Ghraib violated the Geneva Convention and reported what was going on in Tier 1-A to 39-year old Captain Donald J. Reese (who is, to date, the highest ranking officer to actually be charged).

In fact, that was one of the specific charges drafted by Taguba: that Karpinski had failed to instruct, or remind, her soldiers of the Geneva Convention protection that all of the detainees—even the belligerent ones—must be provided according to the Laws of the Nations. In the Article 15-6 Report, Taguba recommended that she be relieved or her command. To show her unfitness for command, Taguba noted that "...BG Karpinski was extremely emotional during much of her testimony. What I found particularly disturbing in her testimony was her complete unwillingness to either understand or or accept that many of the problems inherent in the 800th MP Brigade were caused or exacerbated by poor leadership and the refusal of her command to both establish and enforce basic standards and principles among its soldiers."

In January when Taguba completed his report, the last thing the Central Command wanted was the type of publicity they would have generated if they had relieved Karpinski—a Bush-appointed Brigadier General—by calling attention to the fact that abuses which the military was not prepared to discuss at that time, had taken place at Abu Ghraib. The Department of Defense rotated the 800th MP Brigade back to the United States and reassigned its personnel. Instead of being officially relieved of command, Karpinski was simply reassigned to the job she held before becoming a general. She resumed her duties as Chief of Staff, 81st Regional Support Command in Birmingham, Alabama.

Apparently her new duties provide the brigadier with ample time to do talk shows and hold media interviews. So, while Karpinski was technically not "relieved" of her duties at Abu Ghraib, it appears obvious that she was reassigned specifically to remove her from that position—as quickly and quietly as possible.

When she was interviewed by the Washington Post, staff writer Libby Copeland asked Karpinski to comment on that remark. The general said she took exception to Taguba's remark and wondered if a man would have been described that way. She explained that she gets "passionate" when talking about her soldiers since, she said, it was not only her reputation being besmirched, but those of her soldiers as well. "If you don't get emotional when you're talking about your soldiers...there's something wrong with you." I think its safe to say that a male general would not have gotten "emotional," nor would any general officer be expected to show emotion when being queried about his conduct.

Janis Leigh Beam was raised in Rahway, New Jersey. She was the third of six children. Her parents were politically-active Republicans. Her father was a chemical engineer and her mother was a typical "stay-at-home mom"—which most mothers were in the 1950s. Karpinski described her parents, in interviews, as conservative and patriotic. Her mother, Karpinski said, made sure the flag was out for every holiday. Karpinski, on the other hand, was not quite as conservative and not quite as patriotic. The only reason she did not become a Vietnam War protester, she admitted, was her was afraid that she would incur the fiery wrath of her parents. If she could would not have faced repercussions at home, it is very likely that Karpinski would have joined the likes of John Kerry, Bill Clinton and Jane Fonda in protesting the war.

She waited tables at restaurants in Seaside Heights, New Jersey during the summers while attending college. It was there that she met George Karpinski. Karpinski and his brother ran an amusement booth on the boardwalk. They married. After college, they became teachers. After a couple of years, Karpinski became bored with being a substitute teacher and decided she and George should join the army. They did, in 1977. Karpinski stayed on active duty for ten years, spending time at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort McPherson, Georgia and in Germany. In 1987, she went into the Reserves and became a ful-time corporate consultant working as an executive trainer. Her husband, now a Lt. Colonel, remained on active duty, and is now assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Oman. They seldom see one another, and it seems to work for both of them.

Karpinski sped up through the ranks much faster in the Reserves. She served in the first Gulf War and won a Bronze Star. At the end of the war, she was deployed for a brief period in Riyadh. During the Clinton years she was "fast tracked." She was assigned as an advisor to the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates where she set up military training programs for Arab women. During the Gulf War period she crossed paths with an up-and-coming general—Tommy Franks—who would recommend her for her star. Franks received his first star from Defense Secretary William Cohen during the Clinton years.

As the Bush-43 Administration prepared for its Gulf War sequel. Gen. Franks recommended Karpinski to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who elevated Karpinski to brigadier general. In June, 2003, the new general, who was still the chief of staff, 81st Regional Support Command, put in for her own command, as the commander of the 800th MP Brigade in Baghdad.

On paper, Karpinski was more than qualified. She was a graduate of advanced Military Police courses, the Military Intelligence Officer Advanced Course, Coimmand and General Staff College and the Army War College. Even more, with her service in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, and her participation in the first Gulf War, she was an easy chose for Rumsfeld—and an even easier one for Gen. Tommy Franks, head of Central Command.

Bush, Rumsfeld and Franks were about to become victims of the Peter Principle. Gen. Janis Karpinski had finally been promoted beyond her highest level of competence to the level at which she became completely incompetent. As Gen. Taguba suggested in his Article 15-6 Report, she simply wasn't command material. While that is something Rumsfeld could not see or predict. ultimately he is more directly responsible for what happened at Abu Ghraib on her watch simply because she was his hand-created general. On March 12, 2003 George W. Bush approved Rumsfeld's recommendation and Janis Leigh Karpinski became a general—and a victim of the Peter Principle. Also, on that date, Bush, who authorized her promotion, became culpable for her incompetence.

According to an official with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, Karpinski's primary concern in Iraq was not for the prisons under her contrrol, but the creature comforts which generals are entitled to in combat zones. Karpinski fought harder for private office space than she did for more MPs for her understaffed prison at Abu Ghraib. Karpinski ultimately prevailed and, even though several major generals were sharing office space, Brigadier Karpinski demanded, and received, private space.

Karpinski argued that was not true, citing an instance where she reportedly told her staff not to worry about air conditioning her office until they took care of her soldiers. Somehow that doesn't fit the picture that civilian observers of the erstwhile general paint.

Although she was unofficially relieved of command and reinserted in the 81st Regional Support Command, Karpinski did not speak out in the public forum until the media erroneously reported that she had relieved her of command.

Gen. Karpinski told Good Morning America that had she known those types of abuses were going on, she would have acted very quickly to put a stop to them. Of course she would have. But, it can be argued that had Karpinski had a firm control of the prison system she was supposed to be overseeing, she should have known everything that was going on at Abu Ghraib and the other prisons in her care That was, after all, her responsibility.. Karpinski further ducked her responsibility by arguing that the CIA was theoretically in charge of the section of the prison where the abuses took place and, therefore, it was out of her purview. But, as the commander of the prison system, she should have known what was happening on her watch.


Just Say No
Copyright 2009 Jon Christian Ryter.
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