Few Bronze Stars for scandal-tarnished MP brigade
In the Army's scandal-tainted 800th Military Police Brigade, 80 percent of soldiers slated to get the Army's Bronze Star medal have been told they will not receive them, the brigade's commander, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, says.Updated: May 11, 2004 14:39 IST
In the Army's scandal-tainted 800th Military Police Brigade, 80 percent of soldiers slated to get the Army's Bronze Star medal have been told they will not receive them, the brigade's commander, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, says. "The vast majority of fine, outstanding soldiers in the brigade are paying dearly," Karpinski told The Associated Press in an e-mail Sunday.
Before the Army started its investigation into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib penitentiary, Karpinski said the Army approved about 80 percent of the brigade's recommendations for the Bronze Star, which denotes heroism, outstanding achievement or meritorious service.
Once the probe started, the approval rate plummeted to 20 percent, said Karpinski, whose 2,800-member brigade operated 12 U.S. prisons and detention camps across Iraq, including the sprawling Abu Ghraib facility west of Baghdad.
Karpinski said an Army brigadier general in Kuwait, whom she did not name, was responsible for the downgrades.
"He never visited any of my units or me in Baghdad or anywhere else in Iraq," Karpinski said. "He never experienced life in a combat or hostile fire zone."
An Army report into the abuses at the prison, written by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, faulted Karpinski and other commanders in the brigade and its subordinate battalions, saying leaders paid too little attention to the prison's day-to-day operations. Previous abuses of prisoners or lapses at the prison went unpunished or unheeded, the report found.
Karpinski's subordinates at Abu Ghraib at times disregarded her commands, and didn't enforce codes on wearing uniforms and saluting superiors, which added to the lax standards that prevailed at the prison, said one member of the 800th MP Brigade.
The soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said commanders in the field routinely ignored Karpinski's orders, saying they didn't have to listen to her because she was a woman. Now, that soldier said his own Bronze Star commendation was quashed after the investigation started.
"I was supposed to get one and so were others. (The recommendations) were downgraded and subsequently kicked out," he said. "There's a stigma of belonging to the 800th. You don't deserve any medals. Everybody thinks it's the 800th that's guilty of these crimes, when it's a subordinate unit."
Some of those turned down for the medals won't even get the Army's consolation prize, the simple Army Commendation Medal, the soldier said.
The seven soldiers facing criminal charges in the abuse case, including those posing with naked prisoners, are members of the Army's 372nd Military Police Company, based near Cumberland, Md. The 372nd is one of more than a dozen companies within the 800th MP Brigade. All are Army reservists, most of whom returned to civilian life in January in the United States.
Karpinski said the decision to cancel Bronze Star awards was yet another blow to an already demoralized brigade, which was stretched thin across Iraq while handling some of the Army's toughest tasks. "This will contribute in a large way to the morale of the soldiers who placed their lives on the line every day and survived, despite often seemingly insurmountable obstacles and challenges," she said. "Just coincidence nearly 80 percent of the awards were not viewed as being deserved at the same time the allegations came to light? Curious."
The general, who works as a business consultant in civilian life, said low morale inside the
brigade and at Abu Ghraib was no secret. Soldiers "spoke openly about their concerns" to visiting members of Congress and other high-level visitors. Those included occupation chief L. Paul Bremer, U.N.'s top Iraq official Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in a bombing last August, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
A personal Web site created by one member of the brigade, Sgt. First Class Bill Sutherland, mentions the abuse and calls the 800th MPs a "dysfunctional" unit.
"I'm ashamed that I was with them," the text on the site says. "But I will agree with one thing: the unit was very dysfunctional. From the HHC, to S2, S3 and S4 shops," or the brigade's headquarters command, intelligence, operations and supply sections. The vast majority of the soldiers in the 800th MP Brigade and its subordinate units served without incident in Iraq. Taguba's report reserves special commendations for two battalions within the 800th that operated well, "with little or no guidance from the 800th MP Brigade."
Taguba found the 744th MP Battalion and its commander Lt. Col. Dennis McGlone smoothly ran the prison that holds the top figures of Saddam Hussein's regime - including perhaps the deposed leader himself. The 530th MP Battalion under Lt. Col. Stephen Novotny also did a good job operating the detention camp northeast of Baghdad holding some 2,000 members of the Mujahedeen Khalq, an Iranian guerrilla group opposed to Tehran's clerical regime. The report commends two individual soldiers and a sailor for either halting abuse at Abu Ghraib or refusing to participate. But those commendations are tucked at the end of the report. The soldier interviewed said he worried that the stigma of the abuse scandal will intrude on his civilian career. "If I put on my resume that I was with the 800th MPs, I probably wouldn't get a job," he complained. "It's gotten bad enough to make people suspect that I did something."