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October 28, 2005
Abu Ghraib: The View from the TopBy Greyhawk
Colonel Janis Karpinski, the highest ranking officer to be punished for the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, has written a book: One Woman's Army : The Commanding General of Abu Ghraib Tells Her Story
You can't judge a book by it's cover, but this one has an interesting feature - a photo of the Colonel still wearing her General's stars, and the rank "General" preceding her name. Karpinski was demoted to Colonel as a result of the investigation into the abuse of inmates by soldiers under her command. Based on the numerous media interviews during the lengthy campaign she embarked on following the televised airing of the photos, a better title for the book might be "It was Everyone's Fault but Mine".
Let me save you the cost of the book. You can read Colonel Karpinski's claims to know nothing for free in her PBS Frontline interview:
But I can tell you that these soldiers, these MPs -- Lynndie England was not even an MP, nor was one of the other soldiers. He was a mechanic. OK, they were brought over there specifically to work with these, setting up these photographs and everything. Lynndie England might have been over there for a variety of reasons, but they were brought over there specifically that night. And I know, with no doubt, that these soldiers didn't wake up that morning and say: "Hey, let's go screw with some prisoners tonight. Let's take some pictures. Let's violate everything we know to be decent and correct and fair." Lynndie England surely did not show up in Iraq with a dog collar and a dog leash.The only explanation I've seen for the leash comes from Charles Graner, testifying at Lynndie England's trial after he had already been convicted for his role in the abuse:
Graner, who is serving a 10-year sentence for his role in the scandal, said from the stand that one of the central acts of the case - in which England appeared in a photo holding a naked prisoner on a leash - was a legitimate prison procedure.I suppose that's possible - but it seems unlikely.
As for using unwilling subjects in home-spun porn photography , that was a taste Graner and England acquired before they ever set foot in Iraq:
Spc. Steve Strother, a fellow soldier, described a weekend trip in 2003 to Virginia Beach with England and Graner. The three partied on the beach until 1 a.m. before their unit, the 372nd Military Police Company, was deployed to Iraq.In fact the answers to many of Colonel Karpinski's questions about what exactly went on at her prison can be found with a bit of searching through the news coverage that followed the appearance of the photos on TV. If you accept her claims to not know what was happening in her command, you'll likely believe it's reasonable to assume she wasn't aware of that either.
The following information may be useful to those who actually would like to know the answers to those questions. A re-"print" from January, 2005.
Abu Ghraib is but a stone's throw from where I now type these words, and it's ugliness is more than skin deep. It's a very real place, and an undesirable home to criminals and those whose duty it is to guard them. But to many it's an abstract image, a debate point to be used against opponents like garlic to frighten vampires, a boogy man to frighten children. They inject that ward into any writing they do on certain topics in an attempt to frame the discussion around what is unquestionably now the immediate mind's eye association most people in the world make with the word "torture" - the horrendous photos from the notorious prison.
Here's an illustration from the Washington Post: Does the Right Remember Abu Ghraib? See, it's about Abu Ghraib people! Defend that! The title alone is an attempt to frame the debate on two points. 1) The issue is a right/left issue, and 2) The notorious digital images from Abu Ghraib are a result of government policy.
Both claims lack merit.
Let's dispense with the right/left aspect of this outright. Not everything can be pigeonholed into those political categories, and certainly no one on either end of the political spectrum feels torture is one of the defining points of their position. As much as some may take delight in setting up a "torture aficionado straw man" who supported that other guy in the last election" it's certainly not a legitimate starting point for any reasonable discussion on the matter. Unfortunately there are those who would have it that way in the US Senate, and whatever the outcome the nation will be the worse for it.
If you're looking for further discussion on that political topic move on. The remainder of this post is not for you. But you will miss a chance to look a little deeper into the ugly mirror that is Abu Ghraib, perhaps to clear a bit of fog from it's surface, and discover if you know all you think you do on that topic.
Take this simple 10 question quiz. The answers follow (no fair peeking). There are no trick questions, and no opinion questions. Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts. But perhaps not those you'll find on the editorial pages of your local paper.
Pencils ready? Here's the quiz:
a. Taken over a period of several months
b. All from one night
c. All from one week
2. Who were the victims in those photos, and why were they singled out for abuse?
a. Iraqi cab drivers / mistakenly identified as terrorists
b. Suspected Al-Qaeda Terrorists / Intel officers acting under orders from the Pentagon had carefully instructed the guards at Abu Ghraib in the effectiveness of humiliation in getting terrorists to "sing", and actively encouraged it's use.
c. "Insurgents" / High Command needed info quickly to stem the rising tide of violence during Ramadan
d. Ordinary criminals in prison for their crimes, of no intelligence value/they were brought to the high security area for fighting among themselves at another area of the prison.
3. Throughout Fall 2003 SSg Ivan Frederick, a guard at Abu Ghraib, was continuously emailing his concerns about conditions home to his family, but higher ups ignored them.
True or False
4. The highest ranking of the accused torturers at Abu Ghraib were Reservists, not Active Duty. What were their civilian occupations?
a. Republican precinct Chairmen
b. WalMart Stockboys
c. Postal workers
d. Prison guards
5. Lyndie England was an administrative worker at the prison. Why was she present for the torture session?
a. Not enough "real guards" due to poor planning
b. She was celebrating her Birthday with her boyfriend, and had violated orders to be there
c. The naked pyramid was scientifically proven more effective if a female was present
d. Direct orders of Donald Rumsfeld
6. The Army suppressed the story of Abu Ghraib until the 60 Minutes broadcast.
True or False
7. The Army investigation began
a. After 60 Minutes aired the photos when General Taguba was sent to find out what happened
b. Shortly after the event when a fellow guard learned of the photos and reported the abuse to higher ups at Abu Ghraib
c. When Frederick alerted his family to what he was being forced to do
d. When photos began showing up on weblogs operated by the guards
8. How were the pictures made public?
a. Discovered after months-long investigations by reporter Seymour Hersh and 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes
b. Handed to Hersh by Gary Myers, his old pal from the My-Lai court martial who was coincidentally representing SSG Ivan Frederick, the highest ranking individual charged with torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, immediately after the preliminary hearing in which they were released to the defense
c. Handed to a representative of 60 Minutes by relatives of SSG Frederick
d. Discovered posted on weblogs operated by the guards
9. General Taguba in Senate testimony blamed events on
a. Poorly supervised individuals acting on their own
b. Unnamed Pentagon bureaucrats
c. The military culture
d. Individuals carrying out what they believed to be legal orders
10. SSG Frederick:
a. Was given a slap on the hand
b. Was found guilty by court martial despite the valiant efforts of his top-notch defense team to identify the "real criminals"
c. Pleaded guilty at start of court martial
Those who thought otherwise are experiencing the "success" of Seymour Hersh's early efforts. In a theme later adopted and repeated worldwide, Seymour Hersh (and others) insisted frequently that there were thousands of photos available: "This is a generation that sends stuff on CDs, sends it around. some kid right now is negotiating with some European magazine. -- You know, I can't say that for sure, but it's there. -- It's out there. And the Army knows it." As of this writing no additional pictures have surfaced.
2. D. Criminals brought to the cell block for fighting. They were not being interrogated for information, in fact they were being tortured as punishment and for "fun". At England's hearing, a government lawyer read numerous statements from England's previous sworn statements into the record. The statements are of England admitting to stepping on prisoners' toes, taking photos, posing for photos and posing prisoners for photos, and saying she participated for fun, not due to orders. Additional testimony corroborated this admission.
Another Hershism: He tried desperately to depict the Abu Ghraib torture victims as innocents swept off the streets as a result of confessions gained in earlier torture sessions: "I'll tell you how they get there. You bust the guy that doesn't have anything to do. You humiliate him. You break him down. You interrogate him. He gives up the name of you want to know who is an insurgent, who is Al Qaeda? He gives up any name he knows."
4. D. Although several early stories tried to paint them as untrained individuals thrust into a job they weren't prepared to do, Ivan Frederick (38 at the time) and Charles Graner (36 at the time) were prison guards.
Frederick (original 60 Minutes story linked above): Frederick told us he will plead not guilty, claiming the way the Army was running the prison led to the abuse of prisoners.
"We had no support, no training whatsoever. And I kept asking my chain of command for certain things...like rules and regulations," says Frederick. "And it just wasn't happening."
...He's a corrections officer at a Virginia prison, whose warden described Frederick to us as "one of the best."
Graner (link above): But public records indicate that Graner had troubles at work as a correctional officer in the state prison system in Greene County -- a history of disciplinary actions that culminated in his firing in 2000. He was later reinstated by an arbitrator.
A reporter who served with Graner previously: He said he was shocked to hear that Graner has been accused of mistreating prisoners, in part because of the training they and other guards received years ago. "It was drilled into our minds well before we left the continental U.S. what we were allowed to do, and not allowed to do, relative to the treatment of prisoners."
More Hersh: "Let me just say this. I believe the services have a -- look, the kids did bad things. But the notion that it's all just these kids [doing these things]... The officers are "in loco parentis" with these children. We send our children to war. And we have officers like that general, whose job is to be mother and father to these kids, to keep them out of trouble. The idea of watching these pictures, it's not only a failure of the kids, it's a failure of everybody in the command structure."
5. B. England was celebrating her 21st birthday with her boyfriend, Graner. Numerous early media versions of the story would quote her family members questioning why she was being used as a guard when that wasn't her job. (At the time it was a "not enough soldiers to do the job" story) England was in fact violating orders by being in the cell block. Later she would claim that her superiors had instructed her to pose and told her exactly what to do. If that's true, it was Frederick or Graner giving the "orders", but she never named names, or, if she did, it didn't "make the papers".
But England refused to give him up. In March 2003, she went with Graner and another soldier to Virginia Beach. During the trip, Graner took pictures of himself having anal sex with England. He also photographed her placing her nipple in the ear of the other soldier, who was passed out in a hotel room. Soon, it became their new game: Whenever Graner asked her to, England would strike a pose.6. False. The story first appeared in CNN in January, with a follow up in March, to include mentions of the photographic evidence. Without the sensational photos the story didn't get much attention.
7. B. The Army began investigating as soon as a fellow guard reported the photos he had seen.
8. C. The known correct answer is "C" - Members of Frederick's family handed the photos to a 60 Minutes representative. The NY Times offers this quote from his uncle: "The Army had the opportunity for this not to come out, not to be on 60 Minutes," he said. "But the Army decided to prosecute those six G.I.'s because they thought me and my family were a bunch of poor, dirt people who could not do anything about it. But unfortunately, that was not the case." Ironically that may better describe the motive of the 60 Minutes crew.
The relationship between Hersh and Frederick's lawyer was certainly just an amazing coincidence.
If you'd heard this quote from during the time of the 60 Minutes / "Rathergate" story you might have been misled on this question: Ms. Mapes is also responsible for CBS's reporting on the Abu Ghraib pictures, a story she helped break. According to TV reporter Gail Shister, "The scoop was the result of more than two months' legwork by 60 II producer Mary Mapes." In an interview with Charlie Rose, Mapes described how hard she worked to find the incriminating pictures:
"We ended up chasing it, chasing it halfway around the world and back again. Trying not just to chase the rumors of it, but---but to find out what the reality of it. And in the beginning, a lot of it was whispered accounts of pictures that existed somewhere, an investigation that was going somewhere against someone, and we were able luckily to narrow that down and get our hands on the pictures which really gave us our first real hard proof that this was real."
9. A. The key quote from Taguba's Senate testimony: "We did not find any evidence of a policy or a direct order given to these soldiers to conduct what they did. I believe that they did it on their own volition and I believe that they collaborated with several MI (military intelligence) interrogators at the lower level." Follow the link to see the media spin on this one. The headlines screamed "Taguba blames Leadership for Prison Abuse".
10. C. Frederick entered a guilty plea at the start of his court martial. No evidence was presented, the story was not recorded. His lawyer was at his side as he called for all those other guilty parties to follow his example. He didn't clarify who he meant. After he was sentenced to eight years his lawyer called the sentence "excessive" and said he intended to appeal.
What was your score?
A discussion of torture is an ugly necessity in the world today, but those who would enter that discourse with the battle cry of "Abu Ghraib" should at least understand their position. It's a house of cards, ugly cards to be sure, and not a foundation for discussion with any intent of serious resolution.
One thing overlooked in most coverage of Abu Ghraib - the answers are as important as the questions.
Posted by Greyhawk / October 28, 2005 7:23 PM | Permalink
A few nights ago Mark Christopher a local radio talk show host interviewed Gen. Janis Karpinski who just published her new tell all book about Abu Ghraib. I can say one thing without doubt, this woman was promoted in the 90's because of her gender. T... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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