So, Karpinski Tops the Chain of Blame?

Editorial from The Signal

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

*MEDIA—MANDATORY CREDIT: The Signal newspaper of Santa Clarita, Calif.

t was one of those "4 o'clock Friday"-type announcements. If you're a government agency and you want to release controversial information, you wait until 4 p.m. Friday so it can bounce around in the media over the weekend without much reaction from the other side.
    Friday afternoon, Army officials announced that nobody above the level of Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, the top U.S. jailer in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, will be punished.
    Exonerated is Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commander of the U.S. 5th Army and the military leader who is credited with finding Saddam Hussein in his "hidey hole" on Dec. 13, 2003, after Sanchez and company received tips from Saddam's neighbors — and, evidently, from detainees at Abu Ghraib.
    Also exonerated is Sanchez's chief deputy, Maj. Gen. Walter Wodjakowski, and Sanchez's intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast.
    Despite the "4 o'clock Friday" announcement, the American Civil Liberties Union — which is suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of eight former Iraqi detainees for alleged human rights violations — still managed to fire off a weekend press release calling on the White House to appoint a special counsel "who is not beholden by rank or party."
    Meanwhile, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Virginia Sen. John Warner, said he'd call a hearing "to examine the adequacy of those reviews" once all Pentagon assessments of accountability are complete.
    Friday's announcement was peculiar, at best.
    First, the report of the Army inspector general — the person who purportedly cleared Sanchez — hasn't been released. All we know of the decision is what has been filtered through some Army spokespeople on the condition that their names not be used.
    Second and more substantially, the announcement comes without an explanation of the double standard.
    Last year, when the Army investigated the intelligence operations at Abu Ghraib, it said Sanchez and Wodjakowski "failed to ensure proper staff oversight of detention and interrogation operations."
    It was precisely the same sort of failing an earlier Army investigation attributed to Karpinski — poor leadership.
    Why, then, is Karpinski guilty in the Army's eyes, and Sanchez in the clear? It isn't because she's Army Reserve and he's regular Army, is it?
    And what of Wodjakowski? He was the immediate superior of both Karpinski and Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the intelligence brigade commander at Abu Ghraib who authorized the use of military dogs in ways that violated the Geneva Conventions.
    And what of Fast? According to Karpinski, during the period of prisoner maltreatment, Fast was at Abu Ghraib almost daily to confer with Pappas, often with Sanchez in tow. Today, Fast commands the Army base in Arizona where interrogators are trained.
    We'll reserve judgment until we see the new Army inspector general's report — but that's noteworthy, as well. It isn't only the report that's new. The Army inspector general who exonerated Sanchez and his lieutenants is new, too.
    Last year, the Army inspector general was three-star Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, former commander of the U.S. 3rd Army. Mikolashek investigated the detention operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He found numerous instances of abuses at Abu Ghraib that he attributed both to Karpinski's MP guards and to Pappas' interrogators.
    But now, Mikolashek's out and Stanley E. Green is in. As late as last month, Green, Mikolashek's onetime deputy, was a two-star general who was only "acting" as inspector general. On April 1 he was bumped up to a three-star and handed the permanent position.
    What's the first thing he does? Exonerate Sanchez and blame Karpinski.
    The deeper you look, the more confused you get. Or not.
    Six days after "the" photographs were brought to his attention in January 2004, Ricardo Sanchez sent a memo to U.S. Central Command requesting the appointment of an investigating officer from outside his chain of command to conduct an "all-encompassing inquiry" into Karpinski's MP brigade.
    Sanchez commands the 5th Army (V Corps), so Central Command sent the order to the 3rd Army. That was important; you can't very easily conduct a thorough, impartial, "all-encompassing" inquiry all the way up the chain of command to Sanchez, if need be, if Sanchez is your boss.
    Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, deputy commander of the 3rd Army, got the job.
    Taguba questioned dozens of prison personnel and decided — in his widely publicized "Taguba Report" — that he "totally concur(s)" with Sanchez's assessment of Karpinski's command failure.
    OK, no problem. An independent investigator looks into the decision processes that led to the maltreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and determines that the MP commander, a couple of rungs below Sanchez, deserves the blame.
    Now advance the clock 13 months.
    On Wednesday, in an exclusive Signal interview, Taguba said he was never authorized to take his investigation beyond the level of Karpinski.
    "He's also a very good friend of mine, Ricardo Sanchez," Taguba added.
    "As much as he's a personal friend, he's a great human being. He's a great commander," Taguba said of Sanchez. "He's a wonderful man. He's a great family man. When I see him ... we tend not to talk about what we do. We kind of gravitate towards, 'How's your kids?'"
    Taguba predicted Wednesday that Sanchez would "survive (the Abu Ghraib controversy) and continue to serve."
    On Friday, the Army proved him right.
    On Sunday, Signal readers discovered that there might be more to learn about the impartiality of the Army investigation that found Karpinski at the top of the chain of blame.
    There's another twist yet to come.
    It's not only Rumsfeld the ACLU is suing. It's also suing Sanchez, Pappas and Karpinski.
    Since the abuses happened on "company time," the Army will have to appoint an attorney to defend Karpinski against the ACLU.
    It should be interesting to watch the Army say "yes, she did" in one breath and "no, she didn't" in the next.