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Tuesday, June 01, 2004  

Analysis: Fate and the female general

The question: Is Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski getting screwed? Since we are not discussing Pfc. Lynndie England, I am not using the term sexually. Is Karpinski being taken advantage of by her superiors? The issue arises because some folks wonder if the tenuously situated female officer may have been made a scapegoat because of her gender and inadmissability to the good old boys' club. Karpinski was relieved of her stewardship of Abu Ghraib prison, the most notorious site of abuses of Iraqi detainees by American troops, in November of 2003. Her fortunes have declined further since. Mark Rothschild, writing at Antiwar.com, believes the general is getting screwed.

Karpinski Was 'Set Up,' but Sanchez Takes the Fall

Less than two weeks after Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez abruptly removed Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski from her command of Abu Ghraib prison, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski , Sanchez's chief deputy, convened a meeting at which certain legal issues emerging at the prison were discussed.

. . .Now, six months after that November meeting, it seems that nothing has changed in the way the Army treats Janis Karpinski .  She complained on Monday that she had just received a terse email notifying her that she has now been officially suspended from her command. 

. . .It is now clear that the Pentagon's wagons are circling and that Karpinski is on the outside.  However, back in November of 2003 it was not so clear to Karpinski that she was being set up to take a fall.  

At that meeting in the fall of 2003, Karpinski (pictured) agreed to be the one to sign a letter which which denies that there is is anything wrong with the way most Iraqi prioners were being treated at Abu Ghraib. The pretext for the denial is that the inmates are 'security detainees' under the Geneva Conventions, and, therefore, subject to torture. However, the Geneva Conventions define security detainees as persons likely to have useful information that could prevent future harm or shed light on past atrocities. Very few detainees in Iraq fall into that category. Most inmates are civilians rather arbitrarily plucked from the population. The letter was written in response to confidential findings of the Red Cross that detainess at Abu Ghraib were being mistreated. Karpinski signed it on Dec. 23, 2003, though she denies having read the Red Cross' full report. The report was leaked to the public on May 7th.

The chain of command has denied knowledge of the abuses, though the participants in the November meeting, which included Karpinski's successor, Colonel Thomas Pappas, and her superior, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, seemed aware of the abuses by then. Rothschild believes Karpinski's claims that she was left out of the discussions prior to the meeting, did not see evidence of abuses and did not know she was lying when she signed the letter to the Red Cross. He thinks she was set up, apparently because of her outsider status.

Greg Fischer, who wrote a letter to his hometown newspaper, believes that there has been discrimination in Karpinski's favor because she is a woman.

Karpinski has not been formally relieved of command nor charged in connection with a prisoner-abuse scandal that has tarnished the military's image in Iraq and hindered the U.S.-led occupation.

Why is there a double standard, one for men, and then one for women in the armed forces? Why hasn't she been relieved of her command? Why is she not censured?

Is it not politically correct to hold women to the same standards of conduct as men? Are people afraid of what the feminists may say or do? Punishment must be consistent, for women and for men.

Fischer is in error in regard to Karpinski being disciplined. She has been suspended and sent back to the U.S. She also has been officially admonished. He compares the situation to the Tailhook scandal, in which male Air Force personnel sexually abused their female peers, saying that accountability was swift for the male brass in that episode. Karpinski has mounted a tour of the media, telling her side of the story, from her current assignment to Fort Jackson, S.C. She obviously fears that she may be subjected to stronger disciplinary measures. It is premature to say her fears are unfounded.

Karpinski's alibi is that she was not really in charge of Abu Ghraib. Her words to CNN's Soledad O'Brien are typical.

KARPINSKI: The accusations were without foundation that this was not a military police leadership issue, specifically.

This was a much broader responsibility, and that particular cellblock was under the control of the military intelligence command at the time and, in fact, from November on Abu Ghraib Prison was under the control of the military intelligence command.

O'BRIEN: You had no control over this facility after a certain point?

KARPINSKI: I can't say no control at a certain point, but it was certainly far less control. And the reason I retained any control is because I had MPs that were still working out there and they remained under the 800th MP Brigade.

Some of those MPs have been charged in the abuse scandal, but the general denies knowledge of their activities. Karpinski says military intelligence placed barriers in parts of the prison that she never went past. My response to that is a question: Why? As the commander of the prison, I believe she had the authority to visit any part of it. Even if discouraged, a person of integrity would have insisted on knowing what was going on at his or her site. Karpinski's choice to be ignorant of the truth about Abu Ghraib is negligence. Her claim to have heard no evil before November also lack credibility. If lowly enlisted persons knew what was going on with their limited access to parts of the prison, surely a high ranking officer could have garnered the same information. The letter? It is elementary that one does not sign documents that profess knowledge one doesn't have. If Karpinski did not know whether the abuses had occurred, she should have refused to sign the letter. If she knew that the inmates did not fall under the designation, 'security detainees,' she should have refused to sign the letter. Karpinski's willingness to go along with the others reveals her to have been a member in good standing of the Iraqi occupation family. I cannot in good faith endorse her divorce from that family now.

Is sexual discrimination in the military real? Yes. From what I've read and been told, it is endemic. Women are tolerated within rather narrow boundaries. Those who get out of their place pay the price in abuse or demotion. Getting out of one's place can be doing something as right as reporting having been raped. Writer Debra Dickerson was ostracized and targeted by her commanding officer in the Army for doing just that. But, in this situation, I am not at all sure that the woman has been singled out because of her gender. Her superiors have passed the buck to males as well as to Karpinski. Sanchez, her former boss, is now an officer without an assignment, sharing her disgrace.

12:30 PM