May 12, 2005 -- Janis Karpinski, the former Army Reserve brigadier general who was in charge of Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, maintains she and other reservists have been unfairly scapegoated for the prisoner abuse scandal that shocked the world last year, and the the mistreatment of detainees may still be occurring.
"All the way up to the top of the Pentagon, they have a long-standing mindset about Reservists and National Guard soldiers, and we are considered disposable," Karpinski said in an exclusive interview with ABC News' "Nightline." "We go back to our lives as civilians once we're released from active duty."
It has been a year since photos became public depicting U.S. soldiers posing with Iraqi detainees in humiliating and abusive situations. The images shocked the world and shed light on the military investigation into conditions at the facility. The soldiers involved say they were following orders, while the Pentagon maintains they were a rogue group acting for their own amusement.
Only two members of the military brass have been disciplined so far, most prominently Karpinski, who was commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade and was in charge of military prisons in Iraq -- despite never having run a prison system. She was reprimanded, demoted to colonel and relieved of her duties, but the U.S. military did not bring criminal charges against her.
In the "Nightline" interview, Karpinski said the events at Abu Ghraib took place when she no longer was in direct control of the prison. She also said blaming her is "convenient" for the military, especially given what she sees as the Army's disdain for the Reservists.
"And I think it goes a long way toward explaining why we were not well received by Gen. [Ricardo] Sanchez or his entire staff," she said of the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. "They didn't want to acknowledge that they needed a Reserve brigade, especially when commanded by a female general officer, to do this critical mission."
Karpinski said she is "not convinced" that the release of the photographs and subsequent revelations of abuse have put an end to abuse at Abu Ghraib.
"Maybe people who are orchestrating have gotten smarter and have gotten better," she told "Nightline's" Ted Koppel. "And certainly [they] have threatened any soldier coming anywhere near an interrogation with a camera, probably with any kind of military discipline that they can give them."
Images That Sparked Scandal
The soldiers involved snapped the photos of themselves at the end of 2003. In one image, Pfc. Lynndie England gives a thumbs-up sign as she points to the genitals of a naked Iraqi man who has his head covered by a bag. In another, soldiers pose grinning behind naked Iraqis piled one on top of each other. Yet another photo shows a smiling Spc. Sabrina Harman giving a thumbs-up sign with a bloody, dead Iraqi in a body bag in the background.
So far, six soldiers have been charged and either pleaded guilty or been convicted in the scandal. England pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors, but the military judge rejected her plea, so her case is still pending. Harman's court-martial began this week.
It was announced this week that Army Col. Thomas Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, has been relieved of his command as well. Pappas was not accused of ordering the prisoner abuse or participating in it, but the Army said some soldiers under his command were involved. No criminal charges were brought against him.
There also may be innocent Iraqis detained in Abu Ghraib prison, a practice that she fought against while she was in command, Karpinski said.
"We can do better than this as an Army and as a country. And I can tell you that from the military intelligence interrogators, they wanted to release -- after very brief initial interviews, or initial interrogations as they call them, to get basic information -- they wanted to release easily 80 percent of the prisoners that were being held at Abu Ghraib," she said. "Because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, they had no actionable intelligence, they didn't know anything about any of the questions that they were asking them. But they weren't allowed to.
"And at one point, when I was protesting that, I was told, 'I don't care if we're holding 15,000 innocent Iraqis. We're winning the war,'" she said. "And my response was, 'Not inside the wire, you're not.' Because every person that we're holding who is innocent becomes our enemy the minute they walk out of any prison."
The former commander said her lawyers are pursuing whether there is anything they can do legally about her punishment.
"Janis Karpinski will not be silenced. You can do anything you want to do. Whatever you have in your bag to take action against me that you feel is necessary, go ahead and do it, because you're going to anyway with or without my permission.
"But they can't change history," she said. "I was a brigadier general. I was in command of 17 prison facilities and Abu Ghraib. I did have 3,400-plus soldiers working for me. I was proud to serve with each and every one of them."