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2004-05-12

Private Contractors and Torture at Abu Ghraib, Iraq

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Pratap Chatterjee of CorpWatch reveals the role of the private firms CACI and Titan in the prison abuse scandal. [includes rush transcript]

Pratap Chatterjee recently returned from Iraq and co-wrote a piece titled "Private Contractors and Torture at Abu Ghraib, Iraq":

Two private military contractors are being investigated for their role in torture allegations at the Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq: CACI International, Inc. from Arlington, Virginia, and Titan of San Diego, California. CACI supplied at least one interrogator while Titan supplied at least two translators named in a 53-page classified internal Army report written by Major General Antonio Taguba that have dominated news coverage all over the world.

A total of four men — Steven Stephanowicz, John Israel, Torin Nelson and Adel Nakhla — are named in the report. All of them were assigned to work with the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, a unit that is currently stationed in Germany and Italy in support of V Corps, under the command of Colonel Thomas Pappas....

CACI is currently advertising for interrogators to be dispatched to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo — on its website. Would-be interrogators must be comfortable working under "moderate supervision" providing "intelligence support for interviewing local nationals and determining there [sic] threat to coalition forces. Must be able to work with interpreters to gather intelligence information from multiple sources."

The job requires "a Top Secret Clearance (TS) that is current and US citizenship," according to CACIs site, and candidates 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."

These private-sector positions exist because the military has downsized its interrogation units in recent years, several military analysts told CorpWatch. The cutbacks came as part of longtime Pentagon plans to trim its personnel levels while expanding spending on tech and weapsons systems, said David Isenberg, an analyst who follows private military companies for the British American Security Information Council. In earlier days, before the ongoing privatization of war, interrogators would typically be trained at intelligence schools, located at posts like the Armys Ft. Huachuca in southern Arizona.

Meanwhile, CACI continues to downplay its role in the toture controversy. In a canned statement issued, May 5, President and CEO J.P. "Jack" London said, "CACI does not condone or tolerate or endorse in any fashion any illegal, inappropriate behavior on the part of any of its employees in any circumstance at any time anywhere. If, regrettably, any CACI employee was involved in any way at any time in any of the alleged behavior that occurred in Iraq and has been reported in the media and elsewhere, for those employees I will certainly personally take immediate, appropriate action."

The issue of private contractors came up briedly on Tuesday during the Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing when Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) questioned Maj. Gen Antonio Taguba and Stephen Cambone, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.

  • Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
  • Pratap Chatterjee, Program Director/ Managing Editor of CorpWatch

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Pratap Chatterjee, Managing Director of Corpwatch.org recently returned from Iraq. His latest articles cover the prison prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib and the role of private contractors. Can you explain?

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: The companies involved directly in this prison, one is called CACI, that’s based in Virginia. The second is a company called Titan and they supply interrogators and they supply translators to the prisons. Now, both of these private companies are filling a gap in the army that is in part a result of the army’s own cuts within its forces. For example, the army has a training school for interrogators out in Arizona. A couple of years ago, they cut funding to the school saying they didn’t have enough money to train the interrogators. What’s most astonishing is that once they lay these people off, they turn right around and hired at private company to hire these very same people at probably double the pay to come and work as private contractors without being assigned as part of the military command structure, which means they’re able to go in as civilians. They don’t face court-martial, and they can do what they want.

I have been in correspondence with one of the people in the report who was misidentified in the report as a translator for Titan, who was actually working for CACI, his name is Torin Nelson. He left Abu Ghraib fearing for his life. He confirms what the report says that 70% to 90% of the people inside the prison were innocent. He said that sometimes the soldiers would Go out and grab innocent people in–like that so they can fill the prison with people that they want to interrogate. He is now in fact — he has left Iraq. He’s in Afghanistan right now, still working for the military. He has left CACI, which is the company involved here. The second company involved is Titan, and Titan is out in San Diego. They have a long history of trouble with the federal government. This is one of the companies, like Halliburton, that’s currently being investigated for its failure to be able to account for the money they’re spending on their foreign nationals in Iraq. So, right now, the Pentagon is suspending 10% of their payment because they say, you know, paperwork is simply not there. But to go beyond sort of — at the same time, the SEC is investigation Titan for the fact that it has privately acknowledged it has bribed officials in a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, and Zimbabwe. It’s a company under multiple investigations by the federal government. Going beyond where it’s being investigated, the nature of how it hires its translators is interesting. They recruit in the communities, for example, they recruit Kurdish translators in San Diego where they’re based, in Nashville and I think Cincinnati are the three biggest Kurdish communities. They recruit anybody who speaks the language, very little vetting.

I’ll give you an example of the two brothers from Nashville, the Mustafa brothers who were tortured by Saddam and then applied for jobs with Titan. Here’s the interesting conundrum here. These are people who may have a vested interest, I’m not saying that they actually did anything wrong. But people tortured in Saddam’s prison are being brought back to help as interrogators in Abu Ghraib and other prisons in the country. Now, given that we have 70% to 90% innocent people here and they’re being abused, and some of the people involved are people who were tortured under Saddam, they seem to be accused as Ba’athists, it is not impossible that we have a fundamental problem here of people being hired who might have a vested interest in not treating the prisoners right. I’m not saying they have happened, but I think we need to question and need to go much beyond the current investigation of a few bad soldiers as the Senators are saying, and look at the whole system of overpaying contractors who are not available for military judgment, the fact that we’re hiring people who might have a vested interest in mistreating people, and the fact that some of these people, one of Titan’s translators is actually arrested by the US Military when he left Guantanamo Bay for having apparently stolen information. He was an Egyptian National. I’m not saying again, because the US Military has been involved in arresting people from Guantanamo Bay under false and unnecessary — false and unnecessary reasons. Right now, there is a Titan translator who has been arrested for taking information from Guantanamo Bay and taking it to Egypt. So — this is sort of internal information, so what appears out of this pattern is the fact that Titan hires anybody and everybody. One of their translators who was killed perhaps a month ago, April 7, I think, in Bacuba, in Iraq, was someone who managed a meat department in Pontiac, Michigan. They will hire anybody and everybody who speaks Arabic or Kurdish or Dairi or Aramaic, any languages they need and bring them in with very little vetting. We have a system that brings in, as General Tabuga mentioned, unsupervised people who come straight out of, you know, supermarkets with no real military experience, who are allowed to do what they want. So, we have a system set up that can actually fail very easily, and result in, you know, a revenge mentality by people who might be very angry at whom they perceive as Ba’athists in the prison.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Pratap Chatterjee. His organization has written on private contractors and torture in the prison in Iraq, Abu Ghraib. CACI is the company spelled CACI, called California Analysis Center Incorporated, formed in the 1960’s by Harry Markowitz and Herbert Kerr. Markowitz won a Nobel Prize for his research on Stock Portfolio Diversification. They built battlefield simulation programs. They have made enormous profit in these last years, Pratap.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: That’s right. They — this is the thing with pretty much any of these companies that are doing contracts with the military is that you can bill the taxpayer for whatever your costs are and you can pad those costs and you get to take a percentage extra on top of that, regardless of whether you did the job well or not. We’re seeing from Halliburton all the way down to the mysterious intelligence companies like CACI, is that they’re profiting at our expense and over billing us in the case of Titan. So, this is — this is a systemic problem where we’re paying top dollar for what we are not doing and what we failed to do. You have to understand Amy that a lot of these systems of private contracting were set up I believe in good faith, to save the taxpayer money 12 years ago, but they have been abused. Dick Cheney started setting up private contracting when he was the head of the pentagon in 1991 and 1902. He basically led us to believe, and I — I don’t know that he necessarily believed otherwise, but these private contractors would come in emergency situations, rather than having soldiers, you know, on tap all year that we were paying salaries to, and so interrogators would be brought in for a couple of weeks or truck drivers who we brought in for a couple of weeks. This would save us money, because the civilian truck drivers are paid $8,000 a month. Now, that seems like an awful lot of money for somebody with no skills, but theoretically saving paying a soldier $30,000 per year. Hover, when the system is used to employ these people $8,000 a month all year round it’s a significant financial loss to the military and to the taxpayers. The system is upside-down, even in terms of cost savings. Then, of course, as we have seen in the case of Abu Ghraib, we’re seeing constantly in the case of Halliburton with each new revelation is that we’re being over billed and there’s no accountability. Our — we’ll talk about this a lot on your show. In fact, next week we are releasing a new report called "Houston, We Have a Problem". It’s about Halliburton’s over billing. Next week is their annual meeting on May 19. We’re going to take that into the shareholders’ meeting on the 19th and show how they have cheated us, the taxpayer, and cheated Iraqi people out of a job. This is really something that goes across the board with all of these contractors. We called it "phenomenon of war profiteering". And people might be interested in the subject, which is warprofiteers.com.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Pratap Chatterjee and Cliff Kindy with Christian Peacemakers.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! As we continue with our discussion of private contractors and torture at Abu Ghraib. On the line, Pratap Chatterjee who wrote a piece with A.C. Thompson on that issue. Outsourcing war is one of the subjects of this piece. Pratap, you write that Caci, one of the private military contractors being investigated for their role in the torture allegations at Abu Ghraib is currently advertising for interrogators to be dispatched to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo.

PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Yes, indeed, Amy. These companies that continue to do this and as I mentioned a little earlier, they are actually hiring former U.S. Military interrogator, people trained at their school in Arizona, and paying them, you know, a vast sums of money compared to what they would have earned, you know as reservists in the u.s. Military, and then turning around and sending them around the country. This is a phenomenon that’s been in place now since 1999. We are privatizing every aspect, every aspect of the military from cleaning toilets to interrogation. There’s very little that the u.s. Soldier does nowadays except carry a gun and shoot people, as we mentioned in one of your broadcasts a couple of weeks ago. The marines are shooting directly at civilians. But, all of the other jobs and in fact a lot of — I mean, this is a question that I think we have to raise. I mean is this being done for plausible deniability. Is it because they can say, it wasn’t us — it was the private contractors. We’re seeing this phenomenon now where Caci and Titan are saying, we are not sure who those translators were, maybe they came through a subcontract. But, this is where the system is fundamentally corrupt.

Halliburton, for example was hired by the military to provide food to the U.S. Military. Halliburton turns around and hires a company called Pamimi from Saudi Arabia to provide those cooks who in turn hires a company in bomb bay, India, to hire the cooks who in turn uses subcontractors who are for people — offer people jobs if they will pay them. You know money up front. There was an article in last week’s "New York Times" that people were arriving expecting these jobs to work, and to be paid substantially so they could pay back the people who had gotten them the jobs. Halliburton says, look, we never — none of our people paid them. — took cash to come work in the battlefield.

The fact of the matter is there is no system of accountability. There’s no system of oversight. Nobody knows what’s happening. That’s really how in the case of Caci and Titan that things have gone so badly wrong. The military has no idea what’s going on. So, if Caci, there’s — there’s another little thing that i want to point out is that both caci and Titan will say, this is not our employees and this is not our fault. And to a certain extent, they have a point that some of people who pointed out these problems were people within the company itself, so, to see that everybody at caci and Titan is a bad person might be wrong, that the system of subcontracting is the problem. The fact that we and the u.s. Military have allowed this whole system to be created where nobody has oversight of anybody because it’s such a hierarchy of subcontracting means that we no longer have control whatsoever. So, honest police officers or soldiers and interrogators get mixed in with people who have a reason for revenge. One of the contractors, for example, the one that’s Titan’s translator, who is being investigated for his role in Guantanamo Bay, actually failed a test as an interrogator. He was training to be an interrogator and never made it through the course. He was discharged together with his girlfriend, who had stolen information from the army interrogation center, and then subsequently was denied a job as a security guard at Logan airport in Boston. Yet this man made it into Guantanamo Bay, the most — the top, highest ranked security facility in the world for the U.S. Military, and then left with data. So this is a system that is completely out of control because people are making private profits.

AMY GOODMAN: Pratap Chatterjee, i want to thank you for be with us again of corpwatch.org, his latest piece of private contractors in Iraq.

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