The Mix

Karpinski on sexual abuse in the Army

Why she's saying what she's saying.
Col. Janis Karpinski has testified that, so strong was their fear of sexual abuse, female soldiers in Iraq were dying of dehydration rather than risking the walk to get water in the dark.

Pretty appalling stuff. One reader expressed skepticism about Karpinski's story -- suggesting that it might be self-serving and simply a defense for not carrying out her obvious duties. I respect the skepticism -- this a woman who was in charge of Abu Ghraib during the abuse scandal and was later held responsible for lack of oversight.

She's the only high ranking officer who has been disciplined over the Abu Ghraib abuses. While the Fay-Jones and Taguba reports implicated those futher up the chain of command, Karpinski was offered up as a scapegoat. So, she has reason to be a little miffed.

Last year, I heard Karpinski speak about her experiences at Abu Ghraib. While I didn't completely buy that she knew so little about the abuses, she did make a compelling claim that information was deliberately kept from her, and that any concerns she tried to raise with her superior -- General Ricardo Sanchez -- were not taken seriously. Karpinski felt that gender issues had quite a bit to do with her taking the fall for Abu Ghraib.

From April 2005:
When asked how the allegations against her would affect the future of women in the military, she looked genuinely pained. "It's bad," she said. As the first female general leading soldiers in a combat zone, Karpinski said she knew quite a few men in the military who still see the institution as strictly male territory. The fact that the decision-making process in the prisons side-stepped Karpinski arguably had sexist roots, especially if, as she claims, they believed she would raise a ruckus if she became aware of everything that was going on.
Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba's widely publicized report on Abu Ghraib has quite a few negative things to say about Karpinski, and they almost all revolve around her lack of oversight. But she also felt that Taguba's depiction of her as "extremely emotional" was a sexist mischaracterization. As Karpinski described it, she was being interviewed in a room with about five other guys who, she says, were the only ones tears in their eyes. She argues that Taguba made her an "irrational female" scapegoat in order to get a pat on the back for an investigative job well done.
So, it seems to follow that, after taking the fall for Abu Ghraib, and being demoted, she is now exposing the hostile climate that she believes led to this. A year later, Karpinski is still saying much the same thing: "Even as a general I didn't have a voice with Sanchez, so I know what the soldiers were facing. Sanchez did not want to hear about female soldier requirements and/or issues."

And, regardless of her motivations, what she's saying is hardly far-fetched. Sexual assault in the Army has shown an alarmingly steady increase ever since incidents were publicly reported in 1998.
Onnesha Roychoudhuri is an editorial fellow at AlterNet.