The nauseating pictures of torture at the Abu Gharib prison in Iraq are only an opening salvo. A growing presumption is that the few reservists of the 372nd Military Police Company, who have been formally accused to date, are scapegoats for an investigation that should have gone much further, and much, much higher. The soldiers and their Commander, General Janis Karpinski, say they were operating under the orders of Military Intelligence units who had told them to soften up the prisoners for interrogation.
But it turns out it they were receiving orders not just from MI and the CIA but from employees of a private contractor as well, a contractor also directly involved with U.S. intelligence.
There are estimated to be as many as 15,000 private contractors in Iraq, many of them carrying out what we used to think of as duties of the military. Now, with the scandal at Abu Gharib, we learn that the DOD and the CIA are also outsourcing some of their most sensitive operations, interrogation and intelligence analysis.
According to Seymour Hersh, in the current edition of the New Yorker, one of the recommendations of the officer who investigated the military’s prison system in Iraq, Major General Antonio Taguba, was not just that one of the MI brigade commanders be reprimanded, but that also two civilian contractors be sanctioned. One of them, Steven Stephanowicz, was to be dismissed from his army job and denied his security clearance for lying to the investigators and allowing or ordering military policemen to employ techniques that equated to physical abuse.
Stephanowicz and his colleague work for a Virginia based firm called CACI International, a company that has benefited handsomely from the recent surge in Pentagon outsourcing.
According to their website, “CACI International Inc provides the IT and network solutions needed to prevail in today’s new era of defense, intelligence and e-government. Our solutions lead the transformation of defense and intelligence, assure homeland security, enhance decision-making and help government to work smarter, faster and more responsively.”
The Defense Department provides 64% of CACI International’s revenues, which have soared from $557 million to $843 million from 2001 to 2003, and will probably hit a billion this year.
They currently have some 7,600 employees, based around the globe. Among the mission’s they’re ready to take on, for a price:
“Help America’s intelligence community collect, analyze and share global information in the war on terrorism
“*Uncover terrorist activity by providing capabilities ranging from complex space-based operations to human source intelligence”
One of the many job’s currently listed on the company’s site is:
“Interrogator, Baghdad Iraq.
“Description: Under moderate supervision, provide intelligence support for interviewing local nationals and determining their threat to coalition forces.
“Required: Requires a Top Secret Clearance (TS) that is current and US citizenship. Must have at least two years experience as a military policeman or similar type of law enforcement/intelligence agency whereby the individual utilized interviewing techniques. Develop and present reports and briefings to the Military Chain of Command.
“Desired: Experience in conducting tactical and strategic interrogations in accordance with local standard operating procedures (SOP) and DOD regulation. Knowledge of the reporting tools used in tactical interrogation operations.”
They are also recruiting experienced analysts with top secret clearances to provide “intelligence analytical support to the interrogation team during development and execution of the interrogation plan/cycle. Interface with higher, lower and adjacent intelligence organizations to fully prepare interrogation team for exploitation of detainees, as well as prepare post interrogation analytical products/assessments that support further targeting efforts, source development and analysis of the threat.”
A few questions:
–What powers do such contract spooks have? To whom do they report? Their company chiefs? To their DOD and CIA bosses? Who decides what is “SOP” .
–What is their legal status? Being civilians they are not subject to the Code of Military Justice, nor to the Geneva Conventions. Nor are they required out of military duty by to follow any orders they receive.
More to the point: Why are they being used? Is this another result of Donald Rumsfeld’s decision to ignore extensive plans drawn up by the State Department for the occupation of Iraq? Is it also a fall out of Rumsfeld’s determination to keep the number of U.S. forces on the ground to a bare minimum?
Is anyone outside the military and the intelligence community keeping tabs on all this? The U.S. Congress, for instance?
-How could President Bush have been so apparently shocked and outraged by the Abu Gharib pictures? The military’s internal investigation was concluded last February. Had Rumsfeld not been informed of their explosive findings? Maybe not. This past weekend, General Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted he had not yet read the report. “It’s working its way to me,” he told Bob Schieffer of CBS.
-In fact, why is only now that everyone, press included, is suddenly so outraged? Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have been making similar charges over the past year. “Virtually none of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment has been adequately investigated by the authorities,” says Amnesty.
“Our extensive research in Iraq suggests that this is not an isolated incident. It is not enough for the USA to react only once images have hit the television screens. There is a real crisis of leadership in Iraq — with double standards and double speak on human rights.”
There have been very similar charges of detainees being brutalized-or worse-in American military custody in Afghanistan for years. (By the way, the folks from CACI International also work for the DOD in Afghanistan.)
-And finally, the Orwellian nature of it all: Imprisoned in Abu Ghraib are thousands of civilians, including women and teenagers, according to Seymour Hersh, “picked up in random military sweeps and at highway checkpoints.” Many of them suspected of what are known as “crimes against the coalition; and a small number of suspected ‘high value’ leaders of the insurgency against the coalition forces.”
–But what is the crime? Who are the law breakers? According to latest opinion polls, the majority of Iraqis want the coalition out, immediately. The Iraqi insurgents have taken up arms against an occupying force that, lacking an explicit U.N. sanction, has been illegally in their country, from the start.
Or do such considerations no longer count?
BARRY LANDO is a former producer for 60 Minutes who now lives in Paris. He can be reached at: Barry.Lando@wanadoo.fr
Copyright, 2004, BARRY LANDO