Abused Prisoners and Gender-Based Promotions

by Tom Marzullo, May 4, 2004

A propaganda windfall is how the CBS story of the abused Iraqi prisoners is being described in the press and in intelligence circles.

It matters not at all that the indignities visited upon those prisoners by our own troops is exceedingly mild by Middle Eastern standards, and especially when compared to the previous Baathist norms. What matters is that we can be shown to violate our own standards and that these violations were done by what the Middle East classes as 'infidels.'

But all this may understate the overall situation significantly as the Baathists gain new acceptance within the Middle East and therefore additional Islamic support as well as sources of new recruits. This also translates to additional battlefield action and therefore additional casualties on both sides, to say nothing of the added danger to the people being held by the Baathist-Islamist forces.

A lose-lose proposition if ever there was one.

In looking at the General Officer responsible for those prisons and who is being considered for a 'letter of reprimand,' it is truly necessary to look for the root causes if we wish to prevent this from occurring again.

The following is a rather hard-nosed, non-PC assessment of this situation and one aspect of it in particular. So, I'll give you the premise I will use and that upon which every successful wartime military organization is based – whatever you do, it has to work.

In question is the failure of the chain of command over leadership issues, in particular the failures of one General Officer – Janis Karpinski.

Let me tell you the view of professional military people when it comes to unit performance – there is no such thing as a bad unit, just bad leaders. Therefore, the lame protestations of an experienced prison guard, who served as a mid-grade army non-com who was most immediately in charge of manufacturing this disaster generates little sympathy from any soldiers of merit. Ditto for General Karpinski's latest whining about having told her superiors that she was short of personnel – because this in no way, shape, manner or form excuses her or her subordinate chain of command from properly supervising the behavior of their subordinates and enforcing standards, as this is the very essence of military leadership.

In this case we need to see just how the military's 'Peter Principal' worked in landing this particular General in charge of a relatively thankless, but nevertheless, critical task.

Janis Karpinski came up through the ranks within the 'Military Intelligence' branch (think leadership-lite) and, at a critical time in her career progression was provided with the benefits of the Clinton-endorsed accelerated promotions driven by the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). Under the auspices of a de facto affirmative action program for women in the military, gender was considered as a prime factor in senior promotional policy, ahead of mere competence, and Military Intelligence, as a non-combat branch, was female 'heavy.' This is the very same branch that we have relied upon (and been disappointed by) to provide battlefield intelligence and that specifically gave most of the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership the opportunity to escape from our very grasp in Afghanistan.

It is also necessary to note here that all General Officers are, in essence, political appointees and therefore the gender-based politics of the Clinton era had considerable influence in selecting those generals whom we must now turn to for leadership when the lives of our citizens are at stake, both in the field and here at home. General Wesley Clark, who very nearly started World War III in the Balkans, comes to mind as prime example of such a Clinton military ward.

DACOWITS has been the subject of heavy criticism in the past and not without some significant justification. Given the shrinking military budgets and staffing over the past decade, funding spent on any projects that did not result in increased military readiness must inevitably be seen as detracting from the overall competence of the force that we have now committed to battle. Some of the casualties we now suffer as a result are the irreplaceable costs of political correctness in the military.

While I will stipulate that there may well be some prejudice from isolated individuals within the military, by and large it is a person's demonstrated abilities that build any military reputation and earn professional respect. Soldiers who go to war simply cannot afford the irrelevancies so valued by liberal social engineers. The military is a place where competence is highly respected and must therefore be the critical component for promotion and assignment as we can see from this current international set of repercussions.

In examining the failures of leadership in the case of this politically sensitive and volatile debacle, the question of whether our past and current promotion policies have systemically degraded our military capabilities, by promoting gender over competence, must be frankly asked – and fully answered. The costs to our war effort are already staggering, let us not deliberately escalate them by shying away from these tough questions.

The shrieks that we need to be paying attention to are those of our newly maimed and dying troops, rather than those of the professionally shrill gender-warriors.

Tom Marzullo

Tom Marzullo is a columnist/physicist/educator who is a former US Army Special Forces combat soldier and US Navy Submariner with special operations experience in both services. He was the leader of the Internet-based effort by Special Forces veterans that debunked the false CNN/TIME magazine nerve gas story, 'Tailwind' and has provided testimony before the US Senate on military and intelligence matters. He resides in Colorado.