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MacDill, officer differ on incident

A police report on an alleged shoplifting case on the base is at odds with a demoted Abu Ghraib general's book.

Published March 11, 2006

Former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski - the highest-ranking officer disciplined in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal - says Shishido is the only brand of moisturizer she has used "in the past 10 years."

How, then, did a bottle of Estee Lauder moisturizer end up in her purse while she shopped at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base in 2002?

That's one of the questions raised by two newly released police reports on an alleged shoplifting incident that contributed to Karpinski's demotion last year. After repeated requests from the St. Petersburg Times, the Air Force provided copies of the reports, which sharply conflict with the account Karpinski has given in interviews and in her book, One Woman's Army.

Though she acknowledges her book is incorrect on some details, she says most of the information in the police reports is a "fabrication."

"As long as I've been back (from Iraq), the Pentagon and the naysayers have tried to discredit me," Karpinski said Friday in a phone interview from Hong Kong, where she is vacationing. "Every single time I spoke out they tried to attack on another level. It's very easy to respond because I know the truth and I know what happened."

Of all the military personnel implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal, Karpinski, in charge of Iraq's prison system in 2003, has been by far the most outspoken. She has given countless interviews in which she accepts some blame for the abuse but says responsibility went far up the chain of command. Her book is also highly critical of her superiors.

At the time of the alleged shoplifting, Karpinski commuted from her home in Hilton Head, S.C., to St. Petersburg, where she commanded a reserve unit of military police. In her book, she said she went to MacDill's base exchange to cash a check and buy a few toiletries after her wallet was stolen from her rental car.

Karpinski said her cell phone rang and she pulled some items out of her purse to get to the phone. She replaced the contents of the purse, wrote a check for the purchases and left - only to be stopped by a security guard who said he had seen her putting a bottle of moisturizer in the purse.

Karpinski said she told him the moisturizer was hers, and pointed out that the bottle was half empty. Nonetheless, he filled out a report and kept the bottle.

The guard's statement and a followup report, however, paint a different picture.

The guard - actually a store detective whose name has been redacted - said that around 7:23 p.m. Oct. 3, 2002, he saw Karpinski remove a "makeup item" from a shelf and continue shopping.

"The subject then entered the dressing room at approx. (7:29 p.m.) with the item still in hand. The subject exit the dressing room at approx (7:35 p.m.), at that time the item was no longer in site."

The detective's statement, which contains misspellings and grammatical errors, said Karpinski paid for another item and left the exchange. She was detained and "invited" to the security office, where the detective asked her about the missing makeup and "she advised it was hers."

"I asked if she had it and she advised she did and removed it (from) her purse and placed it on the desk. Security forces arrived and took control of the investigation. The item was Intuition Estee Lauder (Fragrance Silk Parfum Soie Sensuel) valued at $22."

According to a more detailed report, police from MacDill's Security Forces Control Center reviewed two surveillance tapes that showed Karpinski while she was in the store. She was searched and taken to the security center, where she was given a letter revoking her shopping privileges, the report says.

After being read her rights, "Karpinski requested legal counsel and refused to make a written or verbal statement. Karpinski was released on her own recognizance."

On Friday, Karpinski called the MacDill version of the incident "absolutely ridiculous."

She said she never went into a dressing room, and "to tell the truth I don't even know where the dressing room is." She also denied that she was searched, taken to another building or issued a letter revoking her shopping privileges.

Karpinski did acknowledge that she was questioned by a second security person, who she says agreed with her claim that the bottle appeared to be used. Asked why she didn't mention the second person in her book - especially since he seemed to confirm her side of the story - Karpinski said there may have been a "miscommunication" with her co-author.

Karpinski, who said she "always" uses Shishido moisturizer, also struggled to explain why the bottle she removed from her purse was what the detective's statement identified as an Estee Lauder product. "There wasn't anything you could read on it because it had been used so often," she finally said.

The records provided by the Air Force did not say what, if anything, came of the case. Karpinski says no criminal charges were filed, and she wrote in her book that a woman from MacDill's legal staff called her a few weeks later and "apologized profusely."

"So ended one of life's irritating little incidents - or so I thought until years later, when "shoplifting' became one of the Army's charges against me," Karpinski wrote.

The 52-year-old Karpinski, a reservist in charge of military police at Abu Ghraib, was relieved of her command in 2004 and originally faced several allegations of wrongdoing. However, the Army's inspector general substantiated only two: dereliction of duty and failing to inform the Army as required about the misdemeanor shoplifting charge.

Last spring, President Bush demoted Karpinski to colonel. Karpinski has repeatedly claimed she was a scapegoat and that her punishment was largely based on what she called the trumped-up incident at MacDill.

Karpinski said Friday that she and her lawyer have never seen the MacDill police reports despite their repeated requests. All that was in the inspector general's file, she said, was an empty, improperly addressed envelope that apparently once contained something from the store detective.

"The same person now making all these claims couldn't even put the address on the envelope correctly," Karpinski said.

In May, the St. Petersburg Times requested reports of the alleged shoplifting under the federal Freedom of Information Act, only to be told in November that the Air Force could "neither confirm nor deny" the existence of any records. The paper appealed, and this week the Air Force partially granted the appeal, releasing the two reports along with a letter explaining its decision:

"We have taken into account the fact that Ms. Karpinski recently published a book in which she discusses the details of the incident at MacDill AFB FL, therefore diminishing her privacy interest."

Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at

[Last modified March 11, 2006, 01:44:48]

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