U.S. Army Plans to Demote General in Connection to Prisoner Abuse Investigation
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RAY SUAREZ: Janis Karpinski’s military career effectively ended last night with her demotion from brigadier general to colonel. In 2003, as commander of the army’s 800th military police brigade, she was in charge of more than a dozen prisons in Iraq, including the now notorious Abu Ghraib. When photographs surfaced last year, showing American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners, investigators turned to Karpinski, among others. She maintained she did not authorize the abuse.
COL. JANIS KARPINSKI: When I saw the photos, I was sickened by them. I just found it unbelievable. They were despicable acts. I said, "How did this take place?" And I did not know anything about it. And had I known anything about it, I certainly would have reacted very quickly.
RAY SUAREZ: Karpinski’s attorney, Neal Puckett, says he believes she is a scapegoat for higher-ups at the Pentagon. He told the Washington Post,: "I think they are trying to have it both ways. They are severing the chain of command right at her eyeball level, and not letting it go higher."
Of the ten Pentagon investigations into the scandal, only one, by the Army’s inspector general, was designed to assign blame. But when that report was issued last night, it said although "Karpinski’s performance of duty was found to be seriously lacking, no action or lack of action on her part contributed specifically to the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib."
This latest report cleared four officers of all wrongdoing, including Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq at the time. But an independent report conducted by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger found Sanchez failed to make sure his staff dealt with problems at Abu Ghraib.
About two dozen lower-ranking officers have been reprimanded or punished in connection with the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Nine low-ranking soldiers have been charged. Of those, six pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to jail. Private Charles Graner, regarded as the ringleader, was convicted by a military jury and is serving a ten-year term.
Private Lynndie England entered a guilty plea for a reduced sentence. Images of England holding a dog leash around a prisoner’s neck became a symbol for the scandal. On Wednesday, Graner, the father of England’s baby and now husband of another convicted soldier, testified that England did not know her actions were wrong.
He said the leash was used as a way to transport prisoners. His testimony prompted the judge to reject England’s plea and declare a mistrial. Since Abu Ghraib, the Pentagon has investigated alleged abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan and is investigating alleged mistreatment of detainees at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on who should be held accountable for the prisoner abuses in Iraq, we get two views. Retired Lt. Gen. John Le Moyne had a 40-year career in the Army. His last assignment was as deputy chief of staff for army personnel. Lucas Guttentag is the American Civil Liberties Union; he is the lead attorney suing Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Lt. Gen. Sanchez and other senior officers on behalf of eight Iraqis and Afghans who allege they were abused while in U.S. military custody.
Gen. Le Moyne, this sort of split decision that comes out of the inspector general’s report with the highest-ranking officers not held responsible, Gen. Karpinski and a cluster of officers around her demoted or reprimanded and enlisted people heading to jail, many of them. Does that place blame where it belongs, do you feel?
LT. GEN. JOHN LE MOYNE (Ret.): Well, Ray, let’s look at the past actions here. We’ve had ten very exhaustive interviews, investigations throughout the military hierarchy; 1700 people interviewed and the result of those interviews we’ve had 360 criminal investigations. And that’s narrowed down to 130 military personnel being punished, over 20 of them commissioned officers. That includes court-martials, other than honorable discharges, prison time.
So I think you could say that those that have been directly involved or had knowledge of it and did not take action to stop it have been punished. There’s a personal responsibility here and a professional responsibility. And these ten investigations pretty well focused in on both of those areas and have pinpointed their culpability.
At some point you have to draw the line as to who is professionally responsible to have been checking on what was going on and this last IG investigation by Stan Green has pinpointed that Janis Karpinski was the brigade commander, she was the on-site commander, she was responsible for seeing what the conditions were and were the standards being met.
RAY SUAREZ: Lucas Guttentag, same question: Does this outcome place the blame in the proper places?
LUCAS GUTTENTAG: No, I don’t think it did. And I think unfortunately, this report if anything is a step backward by exonerating Gen. Sanchez and by failing to look at where the responsibility lies, namely up the chain of command not down the chain of command. It’s also striking that this report is inconsistent with the prior investigations by the military itself.
The report by Gen. Faye and Jones found that Gen. Sanchez had failed to give proper directions and supervision of interrogation and detention. The Taguba Report found widespread abuses. The Red Cross found widespread abuses, systemic abuses, and the Schlesinger Report found that the problems were systemic. The investigations need to look up the chain of command and look at where the responsibility ultimately lies: mainly at the Pentagon and the secretary of defense for two reasons.
First because of the orders that were issued by the secretary of defense directly that removed the protection of the Army field manual, that removed the protection governing interrogations, that removed the protections of the Geneva Conventions and fundamentally and importantly because of the responsibility of the commanders to know what their subordinates are doing, when commanders know or should have known of human rights violations by their subordinates they are responsible.
And the evidence is increasingly overwhelming of the information that was known throughout 2002 and 2003 of widespread and systemic abuses, yet the secretary of defense did not act in the way that was required to prevent and punish that abuse as it was occurring and to prevent future abuse from occurring.
RAY SUAREZ: Gen. Le Moyne, let’s zero in on the phrase that Lucas Guttentag used, what officers know or should have known. Where does — how do you establish where the line is as far as knowing what people below you in the chain of command are doing and at what point do you become responsible for what those below you in the chain do?
LT. GEN. JOHN LE MOYNE (Ret.): Well, I mean, that’s a good point that Lucas makes there, Ray. The investigations — and all ten of them have focused in on who knew what, and what was the guidance given. And all ten have pretty much come down to the same conclusion, that there is a level where you draw the professional responsibility.
The personal responsibility has been pretty clear since the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, and that’s pretty cut and dried. But the professional responsibility you’ve got go-to-go into the interviews and figure out who knew what, when they knew it and what they were told to do. As I understand from what I’ve read, these ten investigations have all pretty much come down to that the professional level of supervision stops about the brigade commander level where Janis was.
Did other generals know about the conditions at the prison? When did they know about them? What action did they take? I think the investigations have pretty thoroughly gone through that. I would suggest the next step for this is let’s go back to our Constitution and let the Senate conduct their hearings that Sen. Warner has announced he’s going to hold sometime this summer.
RAY SUAREZ: But as Lucas Guttentag, General, and his investigations have suggested, there is some evidence to show that authorization was sent down from the top on how to deal with prisoners in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in Cuba. Is there a responsibility, once you authorize techniques, authorize a certain posture of treatment of these detainees to see that it’s being done the way you’ve authorized?
LT. GEN. JOHN LE MOYNE (Ret.): Well, I think so, Ray. And that’s what the investigations have been looking to see if that, in fact, was done. When you turn to a subordinate general officer, and she’s in charge of the prisons and the guards inside that prison and you start asking some pretty leading direct questions about conditions and what you’ve heard, you want to give her some time to start to find this out herself and get back to you.
Apparently that was not done quickly, expeditiously enough with Janet Karpinski and insider brigade. What the Taguba Report told us is that one element of that brigade had a very weak chain of command. And you’ll find that many of these officers that have been punished were part of that system.
The other two protagonists in that prison camp had strong leadership and, in fact, nothing happened there. And the chain of command was present, the troops knew that, and the informal leadership didn’t take over and run the ward at night.
RAY SUAREZ: Lucas Guttentag, Gen. Le Moyne suggests that the different investigations have come up with pretty uniform results. Is there a lot of daylight between what the inspector general found and what other investigations have found? Did the Army do a good job investigating itself?
LUCAS GUTTENTAG: Well, no it hasn’t. And first we haven’t seen this report, of course. All we’ve seen the press release by the Department of Defense summarizing it. But more importantly, let’s look at what the facts were as they existed throughout 2002 and 2003. During 2002, there were repeated complaints by human-rights organizations, there were repeated reports in the press; there were repeated complaints by the Red Cross of abuses of detainees.
By 2003, the Red Cross had 29 visits in 14 different sites between March of 2003 and November of 2003 and repeatedly reported the concerns of abuses, all of the kinds of abuses that we’ve seen: Stripping people naked, hooding them for prolong periods of time, sensory deprivation and other kinds of abusive and impermissible techniques.
Those were reported to Paul Bremer, those were reported to Gen. Abizaid. Those were sent repeatedly to the field commanders and to the high-ranking commanders according to the press reports; Secretary of State Powell said that the secretary of defense was aware of the Red Cross reports.
It’s simply not permissible for the secretary of defense or anyone else who’s in the chain of command to turn a blind eye to the absolutely irrefutable reports of torture and abuse that were coming out on an almost daily basis and then to say later, "Well, I didn’t know so therefore I’m not responsible." That’s the opposite of the responsibility under the command doctrine. Commanders do have the responsibility.
And this is not a novel doctrine. This is a doctrine that was championed by the United States, that the Supreme Court adopted and endorsed in 1946 when it held that Japanese generals were responsible for the human rights abuses of the troops under their command. That’s precisely the principle that is at issue here.
When the secretary of defense has reason to know or actually knows that abuses are occurring, it is not permissible; it’s not acceptable to simply ignore those. There have to be aggressive, immediate measures taken to punish any abuse that’s occurring and to prevent any future abuse. That did not occur. Nothing happened until the photos from Abu Ghraib were published around the world. And that’s when measures began to be taken. But it’s too little, too late.
RAY SUAREZ: Gen. Le Moyne, you’ve drawn a distinction between personal and professional responsibility. If, as you just heard Lucas Guttentag suggest, fairly high up people knew what was going on before the photos were released, at what point does it become their professional responsibility to see what’s going on, make sure it’s not going on, stop it — at what point do they become accountable for these kinds of actions?
LT. GEN. JOHN LE MOYNE (Ret.): Well, if they knew about it and were aware of it and took no action at all, and took no follow-up, gave no guidance to check or find out what the status really was, then they have failed in their responsibility. They violated their oath as commissioned officers or defense leaders.
I think what you’ll find as you start putting together a timeline here, Ray, that from the time someone was told that there was reports of abuse, the first report is, "We’ve got this and we’re going to investigate it and run it to ground and find out what’s going on." In most cases, the leader will say, "all right, get back to me as soon as you can when you have this."
And there is some delay there. As Lucas said, go back to 2002, 2003 and what was going on inside Iraq and particularly in Baghdad at that time; Rick Sanchez had a lot on his plate and Amb. Bremer was right there trying to get this reconstruction going.
I think they were trying to approach this as they were with all the killings and bombings that were going on. Put in the context, "Let’s get down and get somebody in charge and let’s get back with it." As Lucas says, before that could happen, the photos were published. At that point, you’re late.
RAY SUAREZ Gen. Le Moyne, Lucas Guttentag, gentlemen, thank you both.