By Jon Christian Ryter
May 7, 2004
When President George W. Bush saw the photos of American soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Company forcing 20 naked Iraqi prisoners to pose in humiliating positions in the interrogation center of Abu Ghraib Prison, he was infuriated. A collection of very embarrassing photographs, together with excerpts of a 53-page internal report intended for the eyes of Lt. Gen. Richardo Sanchez were covertly provided to CBS. The photos were made public last Wednesday as CBS used them to promote a segment they were showing on 60-Minutes II that evening. The photos showed a female soldier humiliating a line of naked male Iraqi prisoners by making jokes about their exposed "privates." President Bush ordered Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to throw the book at t those responsible for the humiliating sexual abuse of Muslim prisoners. On Monday Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq ordered the most severe form of administrative reprimand to the officers who oversaw the Abu Ghraib facility. Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, head of the 800th Military Police Brigade—who commanded Abu Ghraib as well as all sixteen military prisons in Iraq—seldom if ever went there. Initially Karpinski was formally reprimanded for the conduct of the troops under her command. .Shortly after the 60-Minute II report aired and media pressure mounted on the Administration, Bush demanded the toughest measure of punishment for those responsible. Four days later Karpinski was fired. In military parlance, the reprimand memo that removed her from her command position was a career-terminator.
After she was formally reprimanded by Gen. Sanchez, Gen. Karpinski appeared on ABC's Good Morning America with her attorney, Neal Puckett. Karpinski argued on Good Morning America that if the military decides that she is "responsible" for what happened at Abu Ghraib—which they apparently did right after the broadcast and relieved her from duty—then, she said, the military should also hold Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez equally responsible. Since her Good Morning America appearance, Karpinski has appeared on several talk shows, arguing that if any military officer is responsible for what happened in her prisons it is Gen. Sanchez and not her. Karpinski and her attorney are trying hard to spin the media into convicting Sanchez—as the commander of all Iraqi troops—in the court of public opinion. When the flap ends, Karpinski will likely be forced into retirement. In a Clinton-world, Gen. Janis Karpinski—a feminist military officer—would be exonerated and male subordinates would become the sole sacrificial lambs. In the Clinton military the buck never stops at the top unless the person at the top is a middle class white heterosexual career male officer with an impeccable military record.
In her argument to the media Karpinski seems to have forgotten that in her assignment in Baghdad she was the defacto "warden" of Abu Ghraib and the other 15 penal institutions in Iraq. What happened within the prison's walls was her specific assigned responsibility. The fact that she was also the warden of fifteen other prisons does not lessen her responsibility at Abu Ghraib. And, the fact that she chose to be an absentee manager, or failed to appoint good deputies at Abu Ghraib does not mitigate her culpability. If anything, it actually makes her even more indictable since it was her responsibility to make sure that each prison had capable administration and that the proper code of conduct was observed by the guards of all the prisons under her charge at all times. The buck, in this case, stops at her desk, not at Sanchez's. When it is your responsibility, you have an obligation to make certain the rules of good military conduct are observed at all times. That is, after all, why she wore the big single silver stars on her collars.
Gen. Karpinski told Good Morning America that had she known those types of abuses were going on, she would have acted very quickly to put a stop to them. Of course she would have. But, it can be argued that had Karpinski had a firm control of the prison system she was supposed to be overseeing, she should have known everything that was going on at Abu Ghraib and the other prisons in her care. Karpinski further ducked her responsibility by arguing that the CIA was actually in charge of the section of the prison where the abuses took place and, therefore, it was out of her purview.
When reports of misconduct at Abu Ghraib prison first surfaced in January of this year, Gen. Sanchez launched an immediate—but very hush-hush—investigation into the allegations of wrongdoing. Another,, more far reaching investigation had been launched by the Army in December, 2002 with military police in both Iraq and Afghanistan being the target of that inquiry. Ten instances in which prisoners being interrogated died are among the incidents being investigated. Two of the deaths are now being called homicides. Since the War on Terrorism began, 25 prison deaths have been investigated. In one, a soldier was court-martialed for killing a detainee with a rock. He was found guilty at court-martial, reduced in rank to private and dishonorably discharged from the service. One other death was ruled justified. A detainee at Gitmo tried to escape and was shot to death by a guard.
Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, chief of staff to Lt. Gen Sanchez was independently charged with performing the initial investigation into the sex abuse scandal. His 53-page internal report to Gen. Sanchez was to determine if there were grounds to court martial the six 372nd Military Police Company who were involved in the picture-taking sexual abuse allegations. Gen. Taguba said there was "...no clear line of authority at the prison..." Taguba's findings dovetailed with the view of Gen. George Casey, the Army's vice-chief of staff who said that there was a complete breakdown of discipline in the Iraqi prison system under the authority of Karpinski. Taguba, however, specifically blamed Lt. Col. Jerry L. Phillabaum who was in command of the 320th Military Police at Abu Ghraib. Phillabaum was Karpinski's man on the ground at Abu Ghraib. Phillabaum—like Karpinski—received a career-terminating reprimand and was relieved of his command. The report, which appears to have circulated quite freely within the military chain of command, was kept from the civilian authority in the Pentagon and from the oversight committees in Congress until this week. Now construed by the Democrats in the House and Senate Armed Services Committees as a cover-up, the Abu Gharib incident will become an election issue with Democrats blaming Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the coverup. On Tuesday Senate Democrats accused Rumsfeld of concealing the full scope of the investigation in an effort to make Rumsfeld culpable in order to tie the scandal to the Bush Administration for electioneering purposes.
On orders from the White House, Rumsfeld expanded the inquiry to include alleged abuses (by the media) at the detention centers in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the Navy prison at Charleston, South Carolina. Bush wants to make sure there are no abuses taking place in any other military detention center.
The sex abuse scandal is causing a diplomatic nightmare in the Muslim world as the Bush Administration desperately attempts to do damage control at home. U.S. diplomats around the world are communicating troubling messages back to Washington as our allies find themselves targeted by their own parliaments as photographs of naked Iraqi prisoners and gloating guards headlined the news around the world. In an attempt to quell the fervor in the Muslim world, President Bush is conducting 10-minute interviews on the U.S.-sponsored Al-Hurra Arabic TV network and the Al-Arabiya Muslim network.
And, as those vivid images were displayed in Paris, London, Madrid, Rome and Tokyo, they were also displayed on the television sets in Cumberland, Maryland where the 372nd Military Police Company is based. One of those who saw those ugly images was Becky McClarran-Mizak whose son, Spc. Dan Mizak, works as a prisoner escort in the 372nd. Mizak was not among the six solders who have been charged with criminal conduct at Abu Gharib. Seven others have been relieved of their duties at the prison pending completion of investigations into their actions but have not, thus far, been charged. The family members of those charged have told the media they believe they were simply following orders from intelligence officers and that they should not be charged with criminal conduct. McClarran-Mizak said she feels what happened at Abu Ghraib was awful and "...that they're over there supposed to be doing their jobs and they're treating those people like that. I think its very bad," she said. "...I wish it would have never happened. But there were 164 soldiers sent over there and there were not 164 soldiers involved in that incident."
But unfortunately that handful—a dozen or so—of soldiers who created an international incident did more damage to the Iraqi war effort than John Kerry, Teddy Kennedy at the millions spent by the global antiwar coalition could ever hope to accomplish.
Today, as they feign horror at the images of naked Iraqi prisoners being ridiculed by American soldiers, several liberal House and Senate Democrats are jumping up and down with glee at the new cannon fodder that will further soil the image of George W. Bush in November.
© 2004 Jon C. Ryter - All Rights Reserved
Jon Christian Ryter is the pseudonym of a former newspaper reporter with the Parkersburg, WV Sentinel. He authored a syndicated newspaper column, Answers From The Bible, from the mid-1970s until 1985. Answers From The Bible was read weekly in many suburban markets in the United States.
Today, Jon is an advertising executive with
the Washington Times. His website, www.jonchristianryter.com
has helped him establish a network of mid-to senior-level Washington insiders
who now provide him with a steady stream of material for use both in his
books and in the investigative reports that are found on his website.
"The sex abuse scandal is causing a diplomatic nightmare in the Muslim world as the Bush Administration desperately attempts to do damage control at home."