The Karpinski Defense: Implausible Deniability

Brigadier General Janis Karpinski and the U.S. Army have handed Saddam Hussein his best line of defense in any upcoming prosecution.

Karpinski, whose duty it was to oversee Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison and the hundreds of prisoners it held (as well as over a dozen other facilities in Iraq) claims that she did not know about the abuse documented in photos and shown around the world over the past week.

Nobody further up the chain of command knew anything about it, either. In fact, the report on the investigation — completed three months ago — still hadn’t been opened by General Richard Meyers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rather odd considering how it was likely to be received by the rest of the world once it became public, but apparently not untypical of this military exercise. And if those people say they don’t know, then it’s unlikely President George W. Bush knew.

If I was Saddam’s lawyer, I’d start preparing to argue that if the top leaders of the government of the U.S. occupying force — all the way down to the general directly in charge of military police and prisons in the country — had no idea that prisoners were being abused under their charge, how in the world can you say that Saddam’s guilty for anything that happened in the very same prison? He was the President! He spent a lot of time away from the capital! Nobody told him about the abuse! He could just use Karpinski’s words: “Had I known anything about it, I certainly would have reacted very quickly.”

Mind you, I’m not saying that Saddam should get off for anything. But by covering their asses with plausible deniability, everyone from Karpinski on up to Bush is going to place an awful burden of proof on anyone making a case against Saddam’s direct involvement in anything. The fact that this incident was covered up for over six months only makes the U.S. look even more culpable. Thanks, guys!