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September 1, 2004

Victims' Lawyers Laud Abu Ghraib Reports

by Jim Lobe

Lawyers of detainees allegedly abused at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison say two recently released U.S. reports strengthen their cases that employees working for private firms that supplied translators and interrogators for the military took part in the shocking abuses.

The reports, one by the U.S. Army that probed the actions of the military units directly involved in the abuse, the other by an "independent" panel appointed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that examined the wider causes of the incidents, both cast blame throughout the military. Yet neither excused the small group of soldiers who carried out the acts that shocked the world earlier this year when photos were leaked to the media.

The pictures showed naked, hooded prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison being made to pile atop one another or engage in simulated sex, among other degrading acts.

"Fifty-four MI (military intelligence), MP (military police) and medical soldiers and civilian contractors were found to have some degree of responsibility or complicity in the abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib," says the army report [.pdf] released Wednesday, known as the Fay report for its author, Maj. Gen. George R. Fay.

It quotes soldiers at Abu Ghraib who said the contractors actually supervised military personnel, supporting the lawsuits' contention that the civilians were not passive participants in the abuse.

"Some incidents of abuse were clearly cases of individual criminal misconduct," concludes the report [.pdf] of the independent panel released Aug. 24. Headed by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, it added, "other incidents resulted from misinterpretations of law or policy or confusion about what interrogation techniques were permitted by law or local [standard operating procedures]."

The panel report does not specifically mention the contract employees, who were supplied by two companies, BGT, a subsidiary of California-based Titan Corp., and Virginia's CACI International Inc. The CACI contractors provided interrogation and other intelligence-related services at Abu Ghraib, while the Titan workers were translators in the prison.

Military officials knew of some alleged abuses before the scandal exploded in the media, and in February an investigation by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba called the treatment "systemic and illegal" and recommended disciplinary action against 10 soldiers, including two civilian contractors, and possible criminal prosecutions against at least six people.

Seven low-ranking soldiers have since been charged for the abuses, and pre-trial hearings for four of them took place last week in Germany.

In June, a human rights group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other lawyers filed a class-action suit in San Diego against Titan and CACI for abuses allegedly committed by their employees at Abu Ghraib. In July, lawyers for four abuse victims and one Iraqi woman whose husband died in the jail launched a second suit in Washington against the two firms.

A lawyer in the latest case said Thursday the Fay report "clearly supports the contingents in our complaint. [This week's] reports kind of validate what it is [our clients] told us," said Roderick Edmond, from Atlanta-based Edmond and Jones.

"In order for us to prove the merits of our case, it has to be a situation where the private employees of the contractors were – I'm not just going to say passively involved in the torture – but actively involved, quite frankly, in instructing and in some ways directing instances of torture."

"I think the take-home message is that these private contractors that were working for CACI and Titan Corporation were very much involved and in some cases instructing the soldiers," added Edmond in an interview.

According to the Fay report, "Several people indicated in their statements that that contractor personnel were 'supervising' government personnel or vice versa. Sgt. Adams indicated that CACI employees were in positions of authority, and appeared to be supervising government personnel."

The report says it has confirmed 44 instances of abuse at Abu Ghraib, and that CACI and Titan contractors played roles in a number of them. It recommends that the cases of six civilian contractors be referred to the Army general counsel to determine whether the department of justice should prosecute the workers.

For example, says the report, on Nov. 24, 2003, military personnel arrived at one cell to find "civilian 11 [CACI contract interrogator] a second unidentified male in civilian clothes who appeared to be an interrogator and civilian 16 [female contract interpreter] all of whom were yelling at a detainee squatting in the back corner."

While a dog in the cell barked and lunged at the detainee, one of the men said words to the effect, "You see that dog there? If you don't tell me what I want to know, I'm going to get that dog on you."

"The use of dogs in the manner directed by civilian 11 was clearly abusive and authorized," says the report.

But according to CACI, " Nothing in the Fay report can be construed as CACI employees directing, participating in or even observing anything close to what we have all seen in the dozens of horrendous photos. No CACI employee appeared in any of the photos released earlier."

"And from this report and the Schlesinger report yesterday, there certainly seems to have been plenty of confusion present about what interrogation methods were authorized and under what conditions," added CACI Chairman and CEO Jack London in a statement.

Titan Spokesman Ralph Williams told IPS via email, "There is no government allegation against the Titan Corporation in the reports or any reference to the company that would confirm the filing or infer wrongdoing by the company. We believe the suit to be baseless, and we will defend vigorously against it."

"As we have said, and as the Fay report confirms, Titan does not provide interrogators or interrogation services. As we have said and as the Fay report confirms, Titan has never had control over prisoners or how they are handled," added Williams.

The report also clears one Titan employee, "civilian 10," of any direct involvement in abuse and recommends the worker be able to retain his/her security clearance.

One lawyer involved in the class-action lawsuit has just returned from a two-week fact-finding mission to Iraq. "Looking at the two reports, how they expanded the blame now, which includes contractors, is consistent with the factual data that I assembled," said Shereef Akeel.

"I have [collected] instances where the detainee said he was being interrogated and tortured by the translator, where the translator had a taser gun and was electric shocking him with it. The translator's supposed to be a translator and that's it," he added in an interview.

According to the Fay report, the Titan contract "calls for translation services only and makes no mention of contractor employees actually conducting interrogations."

But it adds that one Titan employee ("civilian 16") worked with a CACI employee ("civilian 11") in one interrogation using an unauthorized stress position.

Civilian 16, adds the Fay report, was present in a number of other interrogations where unauthorized methods, including dogs, were used, and "failed to report detainee abuse" and "threats against detainees." The case should be referred to the Army general counsel, recommends the report.

In general, it concludes, "these abuses are, without question, criminal," but "cannot be tied directly to a systematic U.S. approach to torture or approved treatment of detainees."

The independent panel report also stresses the abuses occurred at a time when rules on interrogation techniques that were forwarded to soldiers "on the ground" were a confused mess and that "poor leadership and a lack of oversight [at Abu Ghraib] set the stage for abuses to occur."

But Edmond says that state of affairs should not be an excuse for any alleged abuse committed at Abu Ghraib by civilians.

"Regardless of what's going on in terms of the fray and the madness with the military, regardless of the disorganization that was going on with military intelligence, these companies had a duty, and they had a standard that they had to meet. Obviously they failed to do it."

"These people can say 'we were put in this quagmire with no direction'. Guess what? The standards in that situation aren't dictated by military; they're directed by industry standards that [the companies] are supposed to provide contractually for the United States government."

Edmonds said he will soon apply to the court to add the names of four other abuse victims and one other survivor of a victim, now dead, to the lawsuit. Lawyers in both cases say they are waiting for the companies to respond to the lawsuits.

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  • Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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