January 30, 2006
In a startling revelation, the former commander of Abu Ghraib
prison testified that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, former senior US
military commander in Iraq, gave orders to cover up the cause of death
for some female American soldiers serving in Iraq.
Last week, Col. Janis Karpinski told a panel of judges at the Commission of Inquiry for Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration
in New York that several women had died of dehydration because they
refused to drink liquids late in the day. They were afraid of being
assaulted or even raped by male soldiers if they had to use the women's
latrine after dark.
latrine for female soldiers at Camp Victory wasn't located near their
barracks, so they had to go outside if they needed to use the bathroom.
"There were no lights near any of their facilities, so women were
doubly easy targets in the dark of the night," Karpinski told retired
US Army Col. David Hackworth in a September 2004 interview. It was
there that male soldiers assaulted and raped women soldiers. So the
women took matters into their own hands. They didn't drink in the late
afternoon so they wouldn't have to urinate at night. They didn't get
raped. But some died of dehydration in the desert heat, Karpinski said.
testified that a surgeon for the coalition's joint task force said in a
briefing that "women in fear of getting up in the hours of darkness to
go out to the port-a-lets or the latrines were not drinking liquids
after 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and in 120 degree heat or warmer,
because there was no air-conditioning at most of the facilities, they
were dying from dehydration in their sleep."
rather than make everybody aware of that - because that's shocking, and
as a leader if that's not shocking to you then you're not much of a
leader - what they told the surgeon to do is don't brief those details
anymore. And don't say specifically that they're women. You can provide
that in a written report but don't brief it in the open anymore."
example, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, Sanchez's top deputy in Iraq,
saw "dehydration" listed as the cause of death on the death certificate
of a female master sergeant in September 2003. Under orders from
Sanchez, he directed that the cause of death no longer be listed,
Karpinski stated. The official explanation for this was to protect the
women's privacy rights.
attitude was: "The women asked to be here, so now let them take what
comes with the territory," Karpinski quoted him as saying. Karpinski
told me that Sanchez, who was her boss, was very sensitive to the
political ramifications of everything he did. She thinks it likely that
when the information about the cause of these women's deaths was passed
to the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld ordered that the details not be
released. "That's how Rumsfeld works," she said.
was out of control," Karpinski told a group of students at Thomas
Jefferson School of Law last October. There was an 800 number women
could use to report sexual assaults. But no one had a phone, she added.
And no one answered that number, which was based in the United States.
Any woman who successfully connected to it would get a recording. Even
after more than 83 incidents were reported during a six-month period in
Iraq and Kuwait, the 24-hour rape hot line was still answered by a
machine that told callers to leave a message.
were countless such situations all over the theater of operations -
Iraq and Kuwait - because female soldiers didn't have a voice,
individually or collectively," Karpinski told Hackworth. "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."
was the highest officer reprimanded for the Abu Ghraib torture scandal,
although the details of interrogations were carefully hidden from her.
Demoted from Brigadier General to Colonel, Karpinski feels she was
chosen as a scapegoat because she was a female.
assault in the US military has become a hot topic in the last few
years, "not just because of the high number of rapes and other
assaults, but also because of the tendency to cover up assaults and to
harass or retaliate against women who report assaults," according to
Kathy Gilberd, co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild's Military Law
This problem has become so acute that the Army has set up its own sexual assault web site.
February 2004, Rumsfeld directed the Under Secretary of Defense for
Personnel and Readiness to undertake a 90-day review of sexual assault
policies. "Sexual assault will not be tolerated in the Department of
Defense," Rumsfeld declared.
99-page report was issued in April 2004. It affirmed, "The chain of
command is responsible for ensuring that policies and practices
regarding crime prevention and security are in place for the safety of
service members." The rates of reported alleged sexual assault were
69.1 and 70.0 per 100,000 uniformed service members in 2002 and 2003.
Yet those rates were not directly comparable to rates reported by the
Department of Justice, due to substantial differences in the definition
of sexual assault.
the report found that low sociocultural power (i.e., age, education,
race/ethnicity, marital status) and low organizational power (i.e., pay
grade and years of active duty service) were associated with an
increased likelihood of both sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Department of Defense announced a new policy on sexual assault
prevention and response on January 3, 2005. It was a reaction to media
reports and public outrage about sexual assaults against women in the
US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ongoing sexual assaults and
cover-ups at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, Gilberd said. As a
result, Congress demanded that the military review the problem, and the
Defense Authorization Act of 2005 required a new policy be put in place
by January 1.
policy is a series of very brief "directive-type memoranda" for the
Secretaries of the military services from the Under Secretary of
Defense for Personnel and Readiness. "Overall, the policy emphasizes
that sexual assault harms military readiness, that education about
sexual assault policy needs to be increased and repeated, and that
improvements in response to sexual assaults are necessary to make
victims more willing to report assaults," Gilberd notes.
"Unfortunately," she added "analysis of the issues is shallow, and the
plans for addressing them are limited."
can reject the complaints if they decide they aren't credible, and
there is limited protection against retaliation against the women who
come forward, according to Gilberd. "People who report assaults still
face command disbelief, illegal efforts to protect the assaulters,
informal harassment from assaulters, their friends or the command
itself," she said.
most shameful is Sanchez's cover-up of the dehydration deaths of women
that occurred in Iraq. Sanchez is no stranger to outrageous military
orders. He was heavily involved in the torture scandal that surfaced at
Abu Ghraib. Sanchez approved the use of unmuzzled dogs and the
insertion of prisoners head-first into sleeping bags after which they
are tied with an electrical cord and their are mouths covered. At least
one person died as the result of the sleeping bag technique. Karpinski
charges that Sanchez attempted to hide the torture after the hideous
photographs became public.
reportedly plans to retire soon, according to an article in the
International Herald Tribune earlier this month. But Rumsfeld recently
considered elevating the 3-star general to a 4-star. The Tribune also
reported that Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, the Army's chief spokesman,
said in an email message, "The Army leaders do have confidence in LTG
is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, President-elect of
the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive
committee of the American Association of Jurists. She writes a weekly
column for t r u t h o u t.