The highest-ranking officer punished in the Abu Ghraib (search) prison abuse scandal says she was never charged or even arrested for shoplifting and the Army only brought the allegation so it could demote her.

Former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski (search), whose Army Reserve unit was in charge of the prison during the abuse of Iraqi inmates, gave details of how the allegation arose in an interview published Friday by The Signal of Santa Clarita.

Karpinski told the newspaper the basis for the allegation was a misunderstanding that occurred in 2002 at an Air Force base store in Florida.

A colonel at the time, Karpinski said she removed a bottle of facial cream from her purse, then returned it while rummaging for her cell phone. A security guard believed the bottle belonged to the shop, but store personnel later concluded it was her property and had been "clearly partially used."

A U.S. government official, speaking last week on condition of anonymity, said Karpinski was arrested for shoplifting (search) a cosmetic item. The official said Karpinski did not report the misdemeanor arrest on a later background check.

Karpinski was demoted to colonel last week after the Army's inspector general investigated allegations against her of dereliction of duty, making a "material misrepresentation" to investigators, failure to obey a lawful order and shoplifting.

The Army said only the shoplifting and dereliction of duty allegations were substantiated.

"They had nothing about Abu Ghraib to use against me," she said. "So they pull this flaky allegation out and use it to demote me? ... To save face? To mislead the American public yet again?"

Army spokeswoman Pamela Hart said Karpinski's demotion resulted in part from an allegation that she had shoplifted.

"Her validated shoplifting was also a factor," she said without elaborating on the details of the allegation. "As a general officer, she would have been obligated to report prior offenses on her security questionnaire, which I do not believe was the case."

Karpinski said repeated requests under the Freedom of Information Act to learn the basis for the shoplifting allegation were ignored or did not yield any information. Her legal officers were allowed to review the Army inspector general's files for documentation, but "there was nothing to substantiate" the allegations.

On May 3, the Army announced it had demoted her back to colonel, after getting required approval from President Bush. The demotion means her career in the military, where officers must rise in rank or leave, is effectively over.

Karpinski also received a written reprimand and was formally relieved of command of the 800th Military Police Brigade.