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.

It was late in November of 2003, and Karpinski was still feeling the sting to her pride caused by the abrupt change of command ordered by Sanchez two weeks earlier.

Sanchez had replaced Abu Ghraib prison commander Karpinski with a younger officer of subordinate rank, Col. Thomas M. Pappas. Karpinski has described the way in which her command was transferred to Pappas as discourteous.

Although Karpinski was criticized in the publicly known summary of the Army’s Taguba report, her status within the Army was unaffected until this week. 

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. 

No explanation was offered to her and no one called to tell her of her suspension. “You’d think somebody would pick up the phone and call me,” she said. “I am a general officer. Nobody could spend the 25 cents to call me?” 

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 November meeting, Karpinski was informed about a confidential report that the Red Cross had given the Army that accused the Army of abuses in the prison. 

The Red Cross customarily pays surprise visits to military prisons in war zones to ensure that the Geneva Conventions are being followed.  

The Red Cross paid one such surprise visit to the Abu Ghraib prison in mid-October, and its investigation of the prison was presented to the Army in a confidential 24-page Red Cross report. The report has only recently been leaked to the public. 

The Red Cross report was at issue in the November meeting, and the report charged that the U.S. military was not following the Geneva Conventions. 

Joining Karpinski and Maj. Gen Wojdakowski at the meeting were other officers who were to become well known dramatis personae of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Col. Thomas Pappas, the officer with whom Sanchez replaced Karpinski, took pride of place next to the slighted Karpinski. Col. Mark Warren, the Army’s top lawyer in Iraq, was there to provide legal expertise. Warren acts as legal advisor to Sanchez. Warren was accompanied by several of his legal aides.

According to Karpinski’s account, the participants in the meeting showed prior knowledge of the Red Cross report, and even knew details such as a charge in the report that male detainees were forced to wear women’s underwear. One officer joked, “I told them not to order at Victoria’s Secret.”

Since the officers had taken the time to ferret out the lighter side of the report, one must also assume that they were familiar with the mundane and not-so-humorous aspects of the report. 

It is instructive to read from the paragraph that directly follows the one that elicited the chuckles about inmates being made to wear panties. It is not nearly as funny.  

“The ICRC medical delegate examined persons deprived of their liberty presenting signs of concentration difficulties, memory problems, verbal expression difficulties, incoherent speech, acute anxiety reactions, abnormal behavior and suicidal tendencies. These symptoms appeared to have been caused by the methods and duration of interrogation. One person held in isolation that ICRC examined, was unresponsive to verbal and painful stimuli. His heart rate was 120 beats per minute and his respiratory rate 18 per minute. He was diagnosed as suffering from somatoform (mental) disorder, specifically a conversion disorder, most likely due to the ill-treatment he was subjected to during interrogation.”

The Red Cross did not make its report to the military public. It remained secret for many months until it was leaked to the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago.

It is interesting that this information was in the exclusive hands of the top brass in Iraq from November 2003 through May 7, 2004 and was not disclosed. More importantly, it was in the hands of the top brass for more than a month before any investigation of Abu Ghraib was initiated.

That is, it was known to the top brass at least a month before Donald Rumsfeld said that he “immediately” took steps as soon as he knew of the abuse.

In Rumsfeld’s own words, he said on May 4, “The system works.  The system works,” adding, “There were some allegations of abuse in a detention facility in Iraq. It was reported in the chain of command. Immediately it was announced to the public. Immediately an investigation was initiated. Six separate investigations have been undertaken over a period of months since January.”

Apparently on May 4, when he explained how the Pentagon had acted “immediately,” he did not anticipate that three days later the Red Cross report contradicting his definition of “immediacy” would be leaked to the Wall Street Journal.

Although she had not read the report at the November meeting, Karpinski was given the formal responsibility of replying to the Red Cross report.

The actual written reply letter to the Red Cross report was drafted by the office of Col. Mark Warren. Warren denied in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 19, that he had written the letter, but said he “believed” that others in his office did.

Karpinski agreed to sign the letter, and on Dec. 24 a three-page letter of reply was sent to the Red Cross over Karpinski’s signature.

The contents of the three-page letter that she reluctantly signed were unknown until last Saturday. It is now known that the letter informs the Red Cross that the U.S. military need not fully apply the Geneva Conventions at Abu Ghraib.

The letter, which is carefully crafted in legal terminology states that the “security detainees” at Abu Ghraib “will not obtain full Geneva Convention protection.” Virtually all of the thousands of prisoners at Abu Ghraib are so-called “security detainees.”

But on May 11, Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone, Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy at the Pentagon, testified before a Senate committee that the Geneva Conventions apply “precisely” in Iraq. 

Cambone may now have to defend what precisely is the meaning of “precisely,” and Karpinski may have to explain why she chose to sign a letter whose contents she may not have understood at the time. 

While Karpinski may have been “just following orders,” the case against Warren, the Army’s top lawyer in Iraq, is much stronger. Warren’s testimony contradicts his own actions.

In his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 19, 2004, Warren testified that he agreed that “72 hours with a bag over your head to obtain information is contrary to Article 31 of the Geneva Convention.”

Yet, according to Karpinski, Warren participated in the November 2003 meeting at which precisely these same violations of the Geneva Conventions were discussed and openly joked about. 

Col. Pappas may also have been just “following orders.”

It was revealed yesterday, according to a classified section of the Army’s Taguba report, that Pappas said that the use of dogs, shackling and “making detainees strip down,” were approved by Sanchez’s deputy, Maj. Gen. Wojdakowski.

Pappas made these statements to Taguba under penalty of perjury several months ago.  Pappas’s sworn testimony was recorded in the classified part of the Taguba report but kept secret until revealed yesterday by the Washington Post.

It is not clear if Sanchez knew of Pappas’s sworn statement in the Taguba report when Sanchez testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 19, but on that day he told the Committee that he never ordered or allowed the use of sleep deprivation, intimidation by guard dogs, so-called noise management or fear as interrogation techniques in Abu Ghraib prison.

These two sets of statements strongly suggest that either Pappas’s or Sanchez’s sworn testimony may be false.

Neither Pappas nor Sanchez has been charged in connection with Abu Ghraib, although the publicly known 53-page summary of the Taguba report is critical of Pappas.

Well before Sanchez’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Committee had requested the full classified version of the Taguba report from the Pentagon.

The full classified version of the Taguba report is over 6,000 pages long and contains transcripts of sworn testimony and other secret “annexes.” Only the report’s 53-page summary has been made public.

When Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 7, he was able to emphasize the thoroughness with which the Pentagon was pursuing its investigations by pointing to the Taguba report, which according to Rumsfeld stood “two feet high” on the hearing room floor.

At that time, no Senator knew that the “two foot high” 6,000-page still-classified Taguba report was in fact missing 2,000 pages and that the missing pages contained the transcript of Pappas’s sworn statement – perhaps the specific pages which could have contradicted Sanchez’s May 19 testimony.

Janis Karpinski isn’t the only one without a military assignment now. One day after President Bush addressed the nation to enumerate the steps we have recently taken in Iraq, the Pentagon announced that Sanchez would be replaced.

Perhaps Sanchez’s replacement is one step that was not explicitly enumerated. And although we do not know that he was only informed of his replacement by receipt of a terse email, we suspect Janis Karpinski would not shed a tear if that were true.