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Prison Abuse Scandal

Abu Ghraib

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski
Commander, 800th Military Police Brigade
Friday, May 14, 2004; 11:00 AM

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade who was in charge of running prisons in Iraq, told Army investigators earlier this year that she had resisted decisions by superior officers to hand over control of the prisons to military intelligence officials and to authorize the use of lethal force as a first step in keeping order -- command decisions that have come in for heavy criticism in the Iraq prison abuse scandal.

Karpinski spoke of her resistance to the decisions in a detailed account of her tenure furnished to Army investigators. It places two of the highest-ranking Army officers now in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, at the heart of decision-making on both matters. She has been formally admonished by the Army for her actions in Iraq. She said both men overruled her concerns about the military intelligence takeover and the use of deadly force.


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Karpinski was online Friday, May 14 at 11 a.m. ET, to discuss the prison abuse scandal.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: The acts in those pictures are as despicable to me as they are to anyone else who's seen them. I don't excuse any of the people for participating in those acts but at this point I do believe the soldiers were given specific instructions and they had believed that the pictures were going to be used for another purpose in interrogation.

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washingtonpost.com: Gen. Karpinski, welcome to washingtonpost.com.

Spec. Jeremy Sivits has agreed to plead guilty, testify against other soldiers and provide military investigators with detailed accounts of what went on at Abu Ghraib. What is your reaction?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: My reaction to that is that every soldier in the U.S. military is afforded an opportunity to respond to criminal charges or allegations and Spec. Sivits made his choice and his lawyer has advised him that this is the way to go and whoever can provide relevant information, it's important that they have the opportunity to present that information. He's exercising his right under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

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Washington, D.C.: In your view, with whom did "the buck stop" when it came to Abu Ghraib military policy? Who should be held accountable for what occurred there?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: I think it's a shared responsibility. The Military Police personnel were assigned to an MP company that was a subordinate company of my brigade, so I am responsible for those soldiers. I cannot be responsible for other senior people who may have given them instructions specific to these incidents. I had 16 locations and 3,400 soldiers to take care of so I can't be in all of those locations all of the time.

But in terms of where does the buck stop, I think it will be determined as the investigation continues to unfold.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think the remainder of the abuse photos and video already viewed by Congress should be released to the public?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: My personal opinion is the pictures that have already been released are a fair representation of what was occurring in those cell blocks. Publishing additional photos doesn't really serve an additional purpose and it tends to ensure that exposed emotions (anger, etc.) remain on the table. My concern is then people trying to react to their anger might want to take it out in other ways.

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Arlington, Va.: Can you please set us straight on your current status? Are you still in the military? If so, where are you based and what are your duties? Have you been subject to any kind of military discipline for your alleged role in the abuse scandal?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: I want to say thank you very much for that question. I am still in the Army Reserves. I am still in command of the 800th Military Police Brigade. We are based out of Uniondale, N.Y. I was admonished by my C.G. (commanding general).

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washingtonpost.com: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday in Baghdad that soldiers implicated in the abuse would not be charged with international war crimes, saying that the U.S. justice system would handle the cases and "it will be moot."

Has this information reached you?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: No. That's the first I've heard it.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld should resign?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: No. I think that he has to be a participant in this investigation. Sec. Rumsfeld is the equivalent of a CEO of the largest organization in the world and he can establish policy -- which he does -- and he can promulgate policy but you have to trust the people who are disseminating that policy and enforcing that policy because he can't be everywhere all of the time.

Success at any level is directly connected to the effectiveness of communication and trust of the people you have working for you.

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Hagerstown, Md.: General, how and when did you first learn of the abuse?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: I first learned of the abuse via an e-mail on the 19th of January and the e-mail was not sent to me by anybody in my chain of command. It was sent to me almost as an afterthought by the commander of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). He was going to brief the CG (Sanchez) on the status of the investigation and wanted me to be aware that he was bringing Sanchez up to date. He provided no details, only made a reference to alleged allegations of detainee abuse. That was how I found out. My chain of command never informed me.

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Brampton, U.K.: BG Karpinski,

All those charged thus far are Army reservists and not active duty soldiers. Do you believe that has a bearing on this case? Do you believe this case will affect future recruiting and retention within the Army Reserve?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: The Taguba investigation focused completely on the 800 MP Brigade and the entire brigade is Reserve and National Guard. I believe that the intent was to place blame and make association with the 800 so we would remain associated with these photographs for the future. I really believe that they looked at the Reserve and National Guard units as expendable. We were going to redeploy and go back to our civilian jobs and we would recover after this accusation. The active component involvement will become more apparent as the result of ongoing investigations.

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Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: The second part of your question as to whether it was going to affect retention and reenlistment ... I think the answer to that is yes unless an apology is rendered to the 800th MP Brigade. There were 3,400 soldiers who served proudly and courageously for a year and their accomplishments are being dismissed because of the actions of a few people. And I think soldiers are going to say, is this how the military shows us appreciation?

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Woodbridge, Va.: I have read that the prison was way understaffed. Is that true? Also, was there anyone there that could speak the language? Was the language barrier a factor in the dehumanization of the prisoners?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: Yes, all of our prisons were understaffed and we did not have the number of prison experts (civilian contractors) who we were promised to supplement our work force.

We had prisoners who could speak English. We had interpreters and we had soldiers who could speak some of the language. The language was not a real impediment.

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Pinehurst, N.C.: General, a commander is responsible for everything her unit does or fails to do. You were ultimately responsible, were you not? Are you attempting to deflect blame by saying it was a "shared responsibility?"

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: No. I accept responsibility for my soldiers and it is not uncommon in a military deployment for soldiers to be assigned or attached to another command or take orders from another commander. In this case, the soldiers were reacting or following the orders of people they felt were in authority. However that comes out as a result of the investigation will not and does not diminish my responsibility. I am responsible for those soldiers and I take responsibility to the appropriate extent.

For example, if I had knowledge or if I were standing in close proximity and heard another officer giving orders to my soldiers and I ignored my responsibility, that is a failure of leadership. If I had no knowledge that my soldiers were ordered to do specific things, then it becomes a shared responsibility because the person giving the orders is accepting the responsibility for those orders and those actions. If the person giving the orders is not in my chain of command, I can't influence him or hold him responsible because I have no authority over him.

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Washington, D.C.: General Karpinski-

I read that you are the first woman to serve as a general commanding troops in a U.S. war. Has this been a difficult position to fill? Do you feel that you have been treated differently in this situation as a result of this?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: That is true statement to the best of my knowledge. I was the first female general officer to command soldiers in a combat situation. It was not difficult from a leadership perspective. There were additional challenges and certainly the element of placing your life on the line brings extraordinary responsibility to the table. I believe there were some male commanders particularly in the active component who resented my success in a theater of war and communicating to me at times that I was not going to succeed and how dare I think I could succeed in their theater of war. I got the distinct impression it was an insult to their warrior instinct and to their masculinity.

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Lyme, Conn.: It is the duty of a solider to disobey an illegal order? Are Reservists provided the proper instruction to recognize when an illegal order has been given, in your opinion?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: Yes. The soldiers are all trained and knowledgable the appropriate way to follow orders and in certain circumstance what to do if they believe an order is wrong. These soldiers from their statements that have been published are saying they believed the orders were correct and they did not follow the orders blindly. They questioned the people who were issuing the orders and they were reassured and convinced somehow that these were the right things to do.

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Fort Washington, Md.: Thanks for taking my question, ma'am. I am an Army NCO and would like to know what lessons you have learned from this experience that Army leadership needs to know to help our soldiers do their job in Iraq?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: Great question. One of the biggest lessons we've all learned is if you're not happy with the answer you're given, push it higher. If you don't have all of the details that satisfy your question, then ask other people and continue to ask. It's easy to say with hindsight but there are times when you need to challenge your leaders and if that means you're going contrary to their position, you have to believe in your convictions and persist in getting an answer. That was one lesson.

Another important lesson is to use your NCO's in the missions to continue to trust your NCO's and use them to every extent possible because they are going to be the reason you succeed.

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Arlington, Va.: I see that you were admonished. Is it possible that you will be subject to additional disciplinary proceedings such as a court-martial?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: It's possible I'll be subjected to additional discipline as a result of any of the ongoing investigations. I hear that there's 37 of them.

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Bowling Green, Ky.: Maam, with all due respect, you mention if you heard or saw anything you would have done something about it. With the widespread nature of this -- pictures being taken, videos, hundreds of these things -- and people walking around naked in a club med atmosphere... things were out of control. And you knew nothing about that?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: I was responsible for 16 prison facilities. We had interrogation operations at one facility, Abu Ghraib. We had interrogation specifically in two cell blocks in Abu Ghraib and these are the only cases of detainee abuse and photographs throughout our present facilities. Abu Ghraib was not under my control when the photographs were taken. I didn't know what was going on in those cell blocks because the hours when these things were allegedly taking place I wouldn't be anywhere near that facility anyway.

One last point, the pictures were turned over to the CID by an MP from the same unit. He was completely surprised by the photographs and the implication of the activities taking place. He lived there; he slept there; he knew these soldiers and if he didn't know in advance, how could anybody farther away from that level have any knowledge or be expected to have any knowledge. They were obviously doing a good job of keeping it covert.

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Sacramento, Calif.: Good day, Ma'am. Is the Army aware of your participating in today's chat? If so, did you need to gain approval, considering that there is an ongoing criminal investigation?

Thank you for your service to our country.

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: No, the Army may or may not be aware of my chat. I have to choose information specifically in consideration of the ongoing investigation and pending court-martial.

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Berkeley, Calif.: Why weren't abuses corrected when they were first brought to light by the ICRC?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: The last report from the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) was the only report that mentioned anything about detainee abuse and the response provided to the ICRC did address those allegations and corrective action. There was nothing specific in the ICRC report -- just some potential areas of concern, such as the austere conditions the detainees were living under, the overcrowded conditions and all those are legitimate concerns because they can lead to detainee abuse.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: General, who is your supervisor, the person who overruled you?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: Good question. While we were in Iraq it was the Deputy Commanding General (Wodjakowski) and then the Commanding General (Sanchez). But I also answered to Amb. Bremer for civilian correction issues and to my headquarters in Kuwait (TSC -- Theater Support Command).

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Washington, D.C.: General, just to clarify, did you or did you not seek permission from the Army to participate in this discussion -- and in fact to give all the other interviews you've been doing over the past week?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: The restriction on talking to the press was listed two days after the photographs first appeared on the 60 Minutes II program and they lifted the restriction completely.

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Geneva, Switzerland: Gen Karpinksi,
What actions did you take with regard to the soldiers involved when you became aware of the abuses via the email or Taguba's report?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: Taguba's report came after but the action I took was to suspend the battalion commander, the company commander and several other senior people in the chain of command. The MPs had already been suspended.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Since the order came to you to "Gitmo-ize" the prisons in Iraq, what orders did you then give the MP's or others under your command?

It seems that there was a change in policy and that the MP's believed at some point that they could abuse and torture prisoners.

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: The order was never given to "Gitmo-ize" the operation. It is a misunderstanding to look at it as an order. Gen. Miller, who used the expression, "Gitmo-ize the operation," did not have any authority over me. But it was the plan he put in place for the military intelligence command to use for focusing their efforts in interrogation. We in the 800 Brigade, my staff and I discussed the possibilities of "Gitmo-izing" our prison operations and the difficulties or impossibilities of doing the same thing that he was doing in Guantanamo Bay. He had 800 military police to guard 640 detainees. We had 1300 military police to guard more than 13,000 detainees.

The MPs were subsequently provided instructions by the MI (Military Intelligence Command) on how they were going to support the interrogation effort.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: General, How does the presence of civilian contractors and intelligence officers in these prisons affect the chain of command and accountability?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: Civilian contractors are not in the chain of command and the MI interrogators are in a completely separate chain of command. It can be very, very confusing to soldiers when they are taking instructions from people who are not in a position to issue orders but have convinced the the MPs that they have the authority to give them orders.

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Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: The Taguba report had a very narrow focus and was very critical of my leadership abilities. My career and my success in my career would prove otherwise so I have to believe he was trying desperately to make a connection between those photographs and the 800 Military Police Brigade and the only connection he could find or make was to be critical of the leadership and I think it's without foundation. A very important part of the report has not been released and that's my response and my lawyer's response to the Taguba report and to the findings because you would get a better perspective if you read both parts it.

This is not about me, Janis Karpinski. This is about recognition for the courage and the accomplishments of the 3,400 soldiers assigned throughout the 800 MP Brigade.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think there is any connection between the prison abuse and the murder of Nick Berg?

Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski: No. I think they're completely separate events and that the beheading was timed and staged before any of this came up and they (Zarqawi) just seized the opportunity.

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