Last night, a discussion following the advance screening of Rory Kennedy's forthcoming HBO documentary "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" turned into a heated exchange between Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Janis Karpinski, the former commander of the notorious prison who was demoted because of the scandal.
Sen. Graham was on stage with Sen. Ted Kennedy for a moderated discussion on Abu Ghraib, when Graham stated that he thought Karpinski "should have been court-martialed" instead of just demoted.
An excited whisper rumbled through the auditorium, as the audience wondered if Graham, who had arrived late to the screening, realized that Karpinski was one of the honored guests listening to him.
Later, just before drawing the post-screeing discussion to a close, moderator Jeffrey Toobin invited Karpinski to respond to Graham's assertion.
A polite smile/grimace was locked on Graham's face as an elegantly-dressed but still imposing Karpinski rose from her seat and took a microphone, first reminding Graham that she was a proud soldier.
"Senator Graham," she began, "I am also a resident of South Carolina." As a wave of chuckles and applause washed over the audience, Karpinski told Graham how she looked forward to returning home so she could share his comment with the rest of his district. "Thankfully," she intoned, "your opinion doesn't count for anything."
Karpinski continued with the lambasting, telling Graham, "I consider you as cowardly as Rumsfeld, (Ricardo) Sanchez, and (Geoffrey) Miller," for lobbing accusations without undertaking any real action to uncover the extent of the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
Karpinski also added that the military "didn't want me in the courtroom because they would have heard the truth."
Graham countered with references to his own military service, and his understanding of leadership and chain-of command. He said that a good commander would have done spotchecks in the middle of the night to make sure his/her underlings were behaving. According to Graham, because Karpinski didn't do the basics of military leadership--which in his mind was the direct cause of the torture at Abu Ghraib--she should have been punished with more than demotion.
Karpinski responded that what Sen. Graham was suggesting would have required a regular late night convoy of National Guard to make the trip out to the prison for spotchecks, thus exposing those soldiers to unnecessary danger.
To the audience's grave disappointment, Jeffrey Toobin took that opportunity to wrap up the evening.