"A Failure of Leadership" - Part II
James D. Villa, an attorney in Washington DC who used to command the now-infamous 372d MP Company, has an excellent op-ed in Wednesday's Washington Post. He makes a number of solid points in this column, and I imagine these abuses would have been caught much earlier had he been in command in late 2003. Here's the part of his argument resonated the most with me:
These actions were the result of huge command failures. The senior person charged thus far is Ivan L. Frederick, a staff sergeant. In an MP company, a person of his rank is normally placed in charge of a squad of 11 soldiers. I refuse to believe that no leader above Frederick was aware of or complicit in the abuses that were apparently widespread throughout the prison. While certain officers were relieved of their commands and other leaders were given letters of reprimand, the failure of unit leaders, from company to brigade, is stunning.
The 372nd has approximately 150 soldiers and is divided into five platoons, four of which consist of MPs. The company commander is directly responsible for all actions taken by his soldiers, or those that they fail to take. The 372nd's commander and the relevant platoon leader either knew or should have known of the actions of their subordinates, as should have their noncommissioned officers. All these leaders failed in their most basic responsibilities of supervising their soldiers in the performance of their duties.
Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski, commander of the 800th MP Brigade, which ran the prison, has spent most of the past week on television telling the same story: that she never knew about this, that her MPs were working for military intelligence people, that she was not to blame. Had she spent as much time leading her troops as she apparently has preparing for appearances on MSNBC (with her lawyer in tow), the Army might have stemmed these incidents early on. I was taught in ROTC that a leader is responsible for what his or her unit does or fails to do. I was also taught that a leader takes responsibility for his or her soldiers. Either by commission or omission, Karpinski and her chain of command have failed those soldiers in her brigade and, ultimately, this country.
Right... but until we see charges preferred against these senior officers and NCOs, the message is that the Army condones and tolerates this derelict behavior by the commanders in the 800th MP Brigade. I'm not really sure what the Army is waiting for. It seems like there's plenty of material in MG Taguba's 6,000-page report upon which to substantiate criminal charges, especially where we're talking about such a clear leadership failure.
posted by Phillip at 22:10
"A Failure of Leadership"
The New York Times has the full transcript of today's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing online, and the L.A. Times has a good report on the hearing too. But all you really need to read is the following excerpt from the transcript, involving an exchange between Sen. John Warner and Army MG Antonio Taguba:
SEN. WARNER: I ask the same question to you. In simple laymen's language, so it can be understood, what do you think went wrong, in terms of the failure of discipline and the failure of this interrogation process to be consistent with known regulations, national and international? And also, to what extent do you have knowledge of any participation by other than U.S. military, namely Central Intelligence Agency and/or contractors, in the performance of the interrogations?
GEN. TAGUBA: Sir, as far as your last question, I'll answer that first. The comments about participation of other government agencies or contractors were related to us through interviews that we conducted. It was related to our examination of written statements and, of course, some other records. With regards to your first question, sir, there was a failure of leadership --
* * *
SEN. WARNER: Can you give us a quick synopsis of participation by other U.S. government agencies?
GEN. TAGUBA: Sir, they refer to them as OGAs or MIs. And when I asked for clarification it's because of the way they wore their uniforms. Some of them did not wear a uniform, and so how would I ask them to clarify further if they knew any of these people? And they gave us names, as stipulated on their statements. They also gave us names of those who are MI, uniformed MI in personnel in the U.S. Army, and that was substantiated by the comments made to us by other witnesses as we conducted our interviews.
SEN. WARNER: Right. In simple words, your own soldiers' language, how did this happen?
GEN. TAGUBA: Failure in leadership, sir, from the brigade commander on down; lack of discipline; no training whatsoever; and no supervision. Supervisory omission was rampant. Those are my comments.
Roger that. The brigade commander, BG Janis Karpinski, has become quite proficient at pointing fingers downwards, sideways, and anywhere else but her own chest. So has the battalion commander, LTC Jerry Phillabaum. I have yet to see a military officer in this chain of command fall on his or her sword by taking command responsibility. A military commander is responsible for all that his/her unit does or fails to do. Period. End of discussion. Admirably, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took this to heart with his opening statement to SASC last week. Unfortunately, the key leaders in the 800th MP Brigade still don't get it. They still blame others, from the CIA to their own troops, for the things that happened in their units on their watch.
The burden of command is very heavy; it's not an easy job. Commanders must do more than set standards -- they must enforce them too. You can't just tell soldiers to conduct Preventive Maintenance Checks & Services ("PMCS" in Army-speak), you have to physically visit the motor pool to make sure they're doing it. You don't just tell your soldiers to fill their canteens with water; you check them before a patrol to make sure they did. Soldiers do what leaders check. Over time, you may develop trust in a unit that lets you back off some aspects of direct supervision. But even then, you still go down to the motor pool during PMCS, even if it's just to shoot the breeze with your troops. That's what leadership is all about. It's not enough to simply pass on policy guidance from higher HQ about the Geneva Conventions and prisoner treatment. Leaders must physically check their soldiers' performance to ensure the standards are being met. Higher level commanders must also physically inspect what's going on, to ensure that the right thing is being done.
Soldiers do what leaders check. It's a fundamental principle hammered into every lieutenant at the National Training Center, Joint Readiness Training Center, Ranger School, and countless other leadership-training courses. But it wasn't followed here. The leaders in this MP brigade slacked off. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt -- they probably did establish some standards of behavior for their MPs. But they failed to enforce them. They failed to get up and make midnight spot-checks on their troops. They failed to establish supervisory systems to ensure the standards were being met. And the result was that this behavior went on for far too long, undetected and unchecked.
Ultimately, these leaders must be held accountable for these failures. Administrative reprimands, like the ones given so far, are wholly insufficient in my opinion. The Army is prosecuting soldiers for criminal conduct at Abu Ghraib; it should prosecute their leaders as well. What sort of a messages does it send to the average soldier in the field when you hammer these junior troops but let their officers off with a slap on the wrist? Not a good one, in my opinion.
posted by Phillip at 18:20