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I was a sacrificial lamb: Ghraib's ex-commander

The actual blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib rests with military leaders and the White House.

india Updated: Nov 17, 2005 09:24 IST
Jerome Bernard (PTI)
Jerome Bernard (PTI)

The former US commander of Abu Ghraib prison says that she was held up unfairly as a scapegoat by "male warriors" but the real blame for the scandal rests with military leaders and the White House.

In her newly released autobiography, One Woman's Army: The Commanding General of Abu Ghraib Tells Her Story, Janis Karpinski recounts her side of a scandal that led to her demotion and prompted international outrage over the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at the US military-run prison.

While accepting her "share of the responsibility" for some of what occurred when she presided over military police across Iraq, Karpinski says the abuses at Abu Ghraib "were not the work of a few wayward soldiers and their female leader."

"They were the result of conflicting orders and confused standards extending from the military commanders in Iraq all the way to the summit of civilian leadership in Washington," she writes.

While other senior army officers have yet to be prosecuted or demoted, Karpinski said the male-dominated military quickly pinned blame on her after the scandal erupted in 2004. "When things went wrong at Abu Ghraib prison, nobody stood out as a more convenient target than the female general who looked so out of place from the perspective of all those male warriors," she writes.

On the order of President George W Bush, Karpinski was later demoted from the rank of brigadier general to colonel. Lower ranking officers and soldiers have been punished as well.

Born to an affluent family in New Jersey, the 54-year old Karpinski recounts how she rose up the army ranks and was sent to Iraq as the first female general ever to command soldiers in a combat zone.

"Notorious photographs of US soldiers sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners shocked the world and damaged the US image, particularly in the Islamic world. Human rights groups have accused Washington of turning a blind eye to similar abuses of detainees in Afghanistan and at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Karpinski writes that she had no idea of the brewing scandal until she learned in a brief e-mail that proof of abuse from an internal investigation would be presented to the commander of US troops in Iraq. "Prisoner abuse? Photographs? An aide looked at me closely and said, 'Ma'am, are you okay?,'" she writes.

"I had lost colour, and he thought I was about to keel over. "According to her book, it was the first time she had heard about possible abuses at Abu Ghraib and the first time she had heard about the internal investigation. Ten days later, she met General Richard Sanchez, then commander of US forces in Iraq, and she remains bitter that she was made a "sacrificial lamb."

"Nothing sticks in my craw more than Sanchez's comment during our meeting. 'Do you have any idea what this will do to my Army?'" "There was nothing subtle about that message. This was his Army. I wrote this book to dispute that claim."

Karpinski also recounts an anecdote about meeting Saddam Hussein a week after the Iraqi dictator was captured by US soldiers. "He was obviously startled to see a woman dressed for combat with a general's star standing before him.
'Are you really a general?' he said.

"She managed to carry on the conversation in Arabic. Saddam refused to believe he had been detained by US soldiers."

'No, they are Spanish soldiers,' he (Saddam) said. 'They wear American uniforms while they are here, but they are very tough - they are from Spain.

First Published: Nov 17, 2005 09:24 IST