While the latest reports investigating the widely
condemned events at Abu Ghraib prison attempt to close the book on the Pentagon's
culpability with a somber critique, new evidence gathered for a class action
lawsuit filed against two U.S.-based private contractors could prove that the
scandal at Abu Ghraib was far from an isolated series of incidents perpetrated
by a few rowdy "bad apples" working the night shift during Ramadan.
An attorney representing former detainees says his recent fact-finding mission
to Baghdad uncovered dozens of cases of physical and psychological abuse, sexual
humiliation, religious desecration and rape in ten U.S.-run prisons throughout
The NewStandard spoke with Michigan-based attorney Shereef Akeel, who
interviewed some 50 former detainees about their time and treatment in U.S.
custody. Part of the legal team behind a class action lawsuit against the firms
for their employees' involvement in prison abuse at U.S.-run facilities in Iraq,
the former immigration lawyer found himself traveling to meet face-to-face with
the people he is representing in the American court system.
His team has documented abuse dating from July 2003 to as recently as last
month, when an Iraqi boy just 15 years old says his captors at an American facility
raped him. "He was told to go on all fours naked and was sodomized from
behind," Akeel conveyed the 15-year-old's testimony. "He said they
made him dance and he was crying."
A number of the incidents Akeel and his colleagues have recorded took place
between January and July of this year. Emerging evidence that torture in U.S.
facilities continues months after the Abu Ghraib and other torture cases were
revealed – most of those having taken place in late 2003 and dismissed
as the results of oversights corrected since – could spell major problems
for the U.S. government and military.
Akeel and his colleagues are working in concert with the Center
for Constitutional Rights to sue the U.S. companies CACI International Inc.
and Titan Corp., which were respectively contracted to provide interrogators
and translators to support the American military's efforts to obtain information
from "security detainees" – those thought to be involved in resisting
the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The Center for Constitutional Rights is a privately
funded legal center that litigates on behalf of social movements and causes.
For its part, CACI International said in a press statement issued about the
case: "CACI rejects and denies the allegations of the suit as being a malicious
recitation of false statements and intentional distortions." The company
added in its defense, "CACI has never entered into a conspiracy with the
government, or anyone else, to perpetrate abuses of any kind." CACI also
called the allegations of abuse "ill-informed" and "slanderous."
Titan Corp. spokesperson Wil Williams told The NewStandard his company's
employees at U.S.-run facilities in Iraq adhere strictly to their role as translators
and are prohibited by company policy from engaging with prisoners in any other
capacity. He said the class action lawsuit naming Titan is "baseless"
and that Titan will "vigorously defend [against] it." He said it is
"against company policy for any [employee] to engage in or observe"
abusive behavior, and expressed confidence that had any Titan personnel so much
as witnessed unlawful behavior, they would have reported it.
When asked if the witnesses identified the perpetrators as U.S. military, mercenaries,
Iraqis, private translators or others, Akeel sighed. "Honestly, the line
was so blurred, and they were crossed all the time," he said. According
to the testimony Akeel has collected, interrogators often donned U.S. military
uniforms, assailants entered cells naked or approached victims from behind,
and at least one translator wielded an electrical stun device.
Williams was unaware that interpreters, whether representing Titan or not,
were being accused of being in possession of any such devices. "A linguist
is not supposed to be handling weapons," he said, adding that it is "beyond
our imagination" that Titan employees would engage in abusive activities.
Regardless of the perpetrators' national or ethnic origins, Akeel and his clients
hold the U.S. military personnel who were involved in unlawful incidents and
the corporations named in the suit responsible for abuse carried out in prisons
controlled by the U.S. military.
During the course of his investigation in Iraq, Akeel said, clear patterns
emerged. According to Akeel, testimonials gathered individually from former
captives held in U.S. prisons all over Iraq indicate many of the common methods
came into use across disparate, geographically distant detention centers.
Perhaps the most disturbing evidence Akeel found suggesting an overarching
policy of abuse comes in the form of firsthand accounts that captors singled
out religiously observant prisoners for particularly harsh abuse.
Akeel said former detainees told him that upon arrival at a U.S.-run facility,
they were each given a questionnaire asking them about their religious affiliation
as well as their vices. In Akeel's words, the questions included: "Are
you Sunni? Are you Shia? Do you drink? Do you not drink? Do you have a girlfriend?"
Akeel said he found a consistent pattern among the cases: the stricter the religious
observance a detainee reported to his captors, the more severe the treatment
he would receive at their hands.
Akeel provided several examples of religious desecration, including stories
of men who had purified themselves in an Islamic absolution ritual only to be
subsequently doused with beer and alcohol by captors. At one prison, plaintiffs
told Akeel, captors hung a picture of a pig on the wall toward which prisoners
faced to worship and told them, "Pray to your pig."
In one horrific case recounted to Akeel, a naked woman wearing a strapped on
sexual device raped an elderly man while he was fasting. The man said the woman
came in silently behind him, "wearing a belt with a penis," Akeel
relayed. The man told Akeel he could not determine whether his assailant was
an American MP or a private contractor.
Akeel also uncovered a method, previously unknown to his legal team, by which
captors were malicious in their matching of interpreters with the prisoners
they would help interrogate. He said that in each interrogation case before
him, the victim was assigned an interpreter with a "built-in-prejudice."
"All of the translators are of Arabic descent," Akeel said. "So
they'd put an Egyptian Coptic [Christian] translator to look over the [Sunni
Muslims]. It's like putting a Serb in charge of a Muslim [in the former Yugoslavia].
This is a pattern everywhere; [it was] very specific."
Akeel said he interviewed victims from across the social spectrum, "from
lawyers to doctors, to kids, to the elderly, to housewives." He said U.S.
jailers and their contractors subjected all the plaintiffs to similar mistreatment.
One woman told Akeel she witnessed an imprisoned man and woman raped on her
first night of incarceration.
Other witnesses said a group of naked male detainees was forced to serve food
to naked female prisoners who begged the men to cover their eyes.
In another account, a doctor first taken to a presidential palace and made
to stand there for hours on end, told Akeel that he was then taken to the Abu
Ghraib prison where he watched a naked prisoner forced onto the running engine
of a Humvee, leaving the man with irreparable burns.
Witnesses also told Akeel the famous Tikrit area stables of Saddam Hussein's
son, Uday, now house Iraqi prisoners who are forced to urinate and defecate
in the same stalls where they sleep.
Akeel returned from his mission to Baghdad last week. He said he is still processing
everything he learned, and has agreed to provide The NewStandard detailed
documentation confirming these accounts once he has organized the material.
All of it, he said, will be introduced as part of the case against CACI and
One witness Akeel had hoped to interview will not be part of the lawsuit. Akeel
said he was expecting to speak with a woman who had been raped at one U.S.-run
prison, and later discovered she was pregnant. Tragically, she killed herself
before they could meet.
(Brian Dominick contributed to this article)