Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Leadership at Abu Ghraib

Blackfive and Greyhawk picked up this remarkable post by Armed Liberal over at Winds of Change. I’m glad they did. I’ve been meaning to get to this all day.

It turns out that AL had the chance to share a table with (former?) Brigadier General Janet Karpinski of Abu Ghraib infamy. AL plays his reporting straight, and offers a rare insight into both Karpinski’s excuses for the heavily publicized abuses at AG, and the nefarious ways her “testimony” has been manipulated and exploited.

I share Blackfive’s opinion of Karpinski and how she dealt with what was surely a bad situation made worse by extreme failures of leadership. (Hers, among others.)

I remember well when news of AG broke, and to say reports infuriated me would be grand understatement. Granier, England and the rest of their bestial cohorts did more to undermine possible International support for our liberation of Iraq than any other single set of behaviors. We can argue all day long about what AG signifies and what it doesn’t, but the fact remains.

If our enemies wanted to create the most salacious, repugnant, and hate-inspiring propaganda against US forces, they could never have done better than the miscreants at Abu Ghraib.

Hateful, stupid, degenerate, appalling. A million miles away from representative of the vast majority of fine men and women who serve in the US Military. An offense against every one of them, this isolated but grossly over-reported story of personal abuse, official neglect, and dereliction of duty.

This still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, because it happened just as we had activated and were undergoing mobilization training prior to our deployment to Iraq.

I suppose OIF III (we were in country January to November 2005) may have been the first full rotation after all the media over-exposure on AG.

Our MI BN had to endure session after session on prisoner handling, and as we would have a detention facility under our command, even went so far as to prepare a week long Detainee Operations training event in cooperation with our MPs. Many of our Guard soldiers had civilian jobs in law enforcement or corrections. I don’t think our guys really needed to be told right from wrong when it came to prisoners, but we were trained.

Upon deployment, we ended up having administrative control of that detention facility, and several of our Interrogators were assigned to the facility. Several of my soldiers spent their entire tour interrogating detainees at what amounted to an interim detention facility.

I visited our facility several times, most extensively several months after transfer of authority (TOA) for the facility. Clean, orderly, the beneficiary of hundreds of soldier hours of labor in constructing a state-of-the-art facility. Better billeting than our soldiers at the site, who resided in tents. Climate controlled, bright, clean, controlled. Well tended and cared for, both men and equipment. Respectful, all kinds of accommodation for religious observances of prisoners.

I remember drawing aside the Warrant Officer who was OIC of our Interrogators, which consisted of 3-4 of our soldiers and a couple of contractors.

I asked him how he felt about press reports, and whether he had any reason to think Department of Defense (DoD) or military leadership, in his view, had in any way influenced the way detainees were being treated or interrogated. As part of official policy or doctrine.

I remember what he said, because it wasn’t what I expected. I fully expected to hear a blanket denial. I hadn’t heard anything remotely resembling a complaint or concern from any of my soldiers. They were among our best, model soldiers, two were young women, all highly educated and professional.

The Warrant related how, in the days immediately following 9/11, many military interrogators, like many of our soldiers in general, were very angry. They always took their jobs seriously, but in the days of those “first in,” there were isolated reports of Interrogators who crossed the line. Roughed up prisoners. Had to be restrained or pulled out of Interrogations. Not across the board, not a pattern, but something Interrogators (and their NCOs and Officers) were on the look out for.

Media reports were circulating then of the Colonel who fired a round as a means of frightening a detainee into revealing information about a pending ambush.

I zeroed in on the accusation that DOD was promoting methods of Interrogation that might be considered to violate any Army regulations or the Geneva Convention.

He did mention that there was information circulating about interrogation techniques from Guantanamo, where some really hard-core Jihadists were being interrogated, and there were certainly very animated and extended professional discussions going on within counter-Intelligence (CI) and human intelligence (HUMINT) disciplines.

Take it all with a grain of salt. One man’s view and all that. But his big complaint against Big Army and their policies out to the field? Too vague, too much information and not enough direction, and not making it absolutely clear with no ambiguity what would be tolerated and what would be not. Room for loose cannons, maverick operators, for organizations that failed to provide appropriate on-site leadership.

Which underscores the failure of leadership at several levels at Abu Ghraib.

We will never have perfect leadership from the top. We will never have perfect guidance, complete orders, a fully vetted set of procedures for all situations we encounter. That is where NCO and Officer leadership steps in and clarifies what is vague, reinforces what’s expected, does the right thing, and takes responsibility for outcomes and results.

It isn’t always fair, we sometimes have to take the heat for decisions made elsewhere, but what happens on our watch is a reflection of our watchfulness, if you will.

Karpinski finds fault in a lot of other places, but I don’t hear the voice of a leader who took responsibility or tried to be part of making things better (nor for that matter, even recognized anything was wrong).

Note that NCOs in the chain of command reported what they had seen and heard, which resulted in the guilty parties charged and convicted for their crimes. Officers reprimanded and held responsible. Soldiers did the right thing, and that made it possible for vast amounts of ink trashing the US and US military for what amounted to individual criminal behavior.

Read AL’s account of his dinner experience. You won’t see it anywhere else, certainly not in mainstream media, and Democracy Now type reporting that might contain nuggets of truth will be awash with Moonbat spittle.

Links: Outside the Beltway

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