back to the future: Janis Karpinski speaks truth to power

Last night, it was a little disorienting to put up the post below at my other shop; when I started blogging in 2004, there was no subject on which I spent more…. virtual ink.  (Except when London had that screaming across the sky.)

karpinski

Five years ago, revelations of the torture of prisoners in Iraq at Abu Ghraib prison resulted in the prosecution of low-ranking members of a military police unit headed by then-Brigadier General Janis Karpinski,who was demoted to colonel for not having prevented abuse of detainees, despite evidence that such “extraordinary measures” had been sanctioned by commanders in Washington.

This week, when President Obama ordered the release of information about Bush administration policies on “enhanced interrogation” and a new Senate report outlined the history of the development those policies, both CBS’s Early Show and Countdown with Keith Olbermann turned to Karpinski for comment.

Karpinski told Howard K. Smith that she felt the report put her troops’ actions in context. “Scapegoated is the perfect word,and it’s an understatement,” said Karpinski, who has spoken freely in recent years about being a high-ranking woman and also the only general held to account after Abu Ghraib.

Col. Janis Karpinski said Tuesday that “from the beginning, I’ve been saying these soldiers did not design these techniques on their own.” She added that this week’s Senate report is “black and white proof” that uniformed servicemen and women were not alone responsible for the abuses.

Many of the procedures were adopted Iraq-wide in a memo issued in September 2003 by the Iraq war commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. According to the Senate report, lawyers for U.S. Central Command raised immediate concerns that the policy violated the Geneva Conventions, which applied to Iraq. It would be a month before the policy was brought back under Geneva Convention guidelines. Despite the revision, the abuses at Abu Ghraib had already began.

To hear former  Karpinski say plainly: “There was a direct line from the White House to General Miller to Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib” felt like the zeitgeist was quoting Book of Days – or rather Hilzoy, the professor and tireless Tiresias of Obsidian Wings, to whose visionary writing I am a gnat.

But last night, my quiet women’s-magazine self had only to present the voice of a woman who had been there. For once, I felt that we were really being a Women’s Voice for Change.

In other news, 60,000 words after I started, I seem to have gotten out of Vietnam. All that means is I get to push forward, and write about those who had trouble doing so in their hearts, as the great Lily Casura is already doing. But there’s some relief, as I imagine most felt in 1973 mixed with their anguish.

And tomorrow I’ll do a roundup on other subjects I’ve neglected here, like Matthis Chiroux and the Hempstead 15. (Writing it that way makes them sound like the guys who made the first rap record that mattered.)

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