- Susan Burkepart of the legal team that has filed a lawsuit against private military firm, CACI.
The private military firm CACI International was recently awarded lucrative, multi-million dollar contracts from the U.S. Army and the Department of Justice. The contracts came despite a lawsuit CACI is facing for alleged abuses in Iraqi prisons, including Abu Ghraib. We speak with attorney Susan Burke, who filed the suit on behalf of 256 prisoners held in Iraqi jails. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: The US Army has awarded the private military contractor CACI International a $60 million contract to provide technical and maintenance support for the Army’s Directorate of Logistics in Fort Bliss, Texas. Earlier this month, CACI also captured a five-year $12.5 million contract to provide management support to the Department of Justice.
The contracts come despite a lawsuit CACI is facing for alleged abuses in Iraqi prisons, including Abu Ghraib. In December, 256 prisoners filed a lawsuit [alleging] CACI employees directed soldiers to mistreat the prisoners. The lawsuit was filed by Susan Burke and the Center for Constitutional Rights, a continuation of a class-action suit filed in 2004 after the leaking of the Taguba Report.
I spoke to Susan Burke the day she filed the suit against CACI. I began by asking her to explain the allegations in the lawsuit.
SUSAN BURKE: This is a lawsuit brought against one of the companies that privately participated, that made millions of dollars and participated with the criminal conduct of certain military people to torture prisoners. The military has convicted several already of this conspiracy to mistreat prisoners. What hasn’t been done is any type of criminal prosecution or accountability on the private side.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something. We know about people like Charles Graner, who was court-martialed, who’s in jail right now.
SUSAN BURKE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: So you’re saying that US soldiers can be held accountable, but the military contractors who do the same thing, they often are let off scot-free. This, it seems to me, will be an issue for US soldiers saying this is not fair.
SUSAN BURKE: Well, it is. And the real question here is, why have they been let off scot-free? I mean, this is conduct that was testified about in the court-martials. This is conduct that’s known to the United States government. The Department of Justice really should be criminally prosecuting all the private corporate employees that were participants in this conspiracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about CACI’s role. For example, though you talk about this happening at other prisons, at Abu Ghraib, what exactly were these employees doing? Do you know individually who they are?
SUSAN BURKE: We know some and obviously hope to learn more, as we continue our investigation and continue the litigation. But what we know already comes from the investigations and the court-martials that have already gone on. And what we know is that when a CACI interrogator was placed into Abu Ghraib prison, that person held essentially the slot on the interrogation team where they were put in charge. And so, we have CACI interrogators being placed in charge of these teams.
AMY GOODMAN: You have private military contractors that US soldiers are answering to.
SUSAN BURKE: That’s correct. They had the same ability — these CACI private employees had the same ability to direct the military police vis-a-vis the treatment of the prisoners as did the military intelligence. So what you have, for example, is a gentleman, Steve Stefanowicz, and another gentleman, Daniel Johnson. Those two have been identified by Graner and Frederick and others as having been some of — among the group that would give them the orders to rough up the prisoners, to torture the prisoners. And so, Big Steve, for example — on one occasion, in fact, Graner even refused to follow one of Big Steve’s directives, because he found it too harsh. So you have —-
AMY GOODMAN: What had he directed him to do?
SUSAN BURKE: It was a case in which a prisoner that had been tortured was in such pain, and the interrogator, Big Steve, said, “Don’t give him any pain medication.” And Graner was afraid that it would cause death, and he gave him the pain medication.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you’re alleging that there were deaths that resulted.
SUSAN BURKE: The people died in prison as a result of the torture, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re now representing hundreds of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other prisons. How do you find them? Tell us some of their individual stories.
SUSAN BURKE: Well, really they -— we don’t find them, they find us. We are — we have a couple of — it’s word of mouth. We started because a gentleman here in — a Swedish citizen, an Iraqi by birth, was living in Sweden. He had been at Abu Ghraib prison and tortured by Saddam Hussein. He fled the country when he was released, and he was living a regular ordinary life in Sweden, a Swedish citizen, raising his children with his wife. The fall of Saddam, he decides to go back to Iraq, over his wife’s objection. He gets picked up, put in Abu Ghraib prison and tortured. He’s then let go, goes back to Sweden.
He’s here in the United States visiting a cousin, some relatives out in the Dearborn area. He tells a male cousin, a gentleman close in his age, somebody that was like a brother to him — he tells the brother what happened to him. And it was terrible. I mean, he was one of the people that was, you know, rope tied to his penis, dragged naked back and forth against the concrete, terrible beatings. And so, he told the cousin what happened. And the cousin — and this is before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. The cousin said, you need to go talk to an American lawyer. So this gentleman walked into my co-counsel Shereef Akeel’s office out in the Detroit area. And as a result of that, that very first client, we then went forward, and the word spread throughout — we have a couple of guys there, and it just became word of mouth.
So what happens is, each community — each tribal community in Iraq has had torture victims in their midst. We go over. We’ve been to Jordan, we go to Turkey. We go over, and we tend to meet with people that are in a position of respected in their community. And they really — you know, they talk to us. They want to make sure our intentions are good. You know, think about this. These are people that have been tortured by Americans. So, you know, they come meet with us, and we tell them what we’re doing. We tell them how we’re trying to get accountability for this torture scandal. And then, usually what happens after that is the seven to ten victims within their own neighborhood, within their own community, then they come to us and sign up, and then we start — then we interview all of them individually.
AMY GOODMAN: And how did you trace these people who have been tortured at Abu Ghraib? And name some of the other prisons.
SUSAN BURKE: Well, the other — Camp Cropper. There was a lot of mistreatment at Cropper. Another facility near the Baghdad airport, Fallujah, Balad. Some of the worst torture, actually, is in these mobile facilities. For example, we had one gentleman, Ahmed, whose wife is a doctor, and he is a local businessman. He was brought in and kept three days naked, pouring cold water, and being kicked nonstop across the floor. Literally, like different shifts of the guards would come in and keep the kicking going. And that was at one of these mobile facilities. So the reality is that what is already on the record with Abu is only the tip of the torture iceberg. There’s a lot of torture that’s gone on, but there hasn’t been an investigation, other than ours, other than just a private, you know, firm with the Center for Constitutional Rights trying to investigate.
AMY GOODMAN: You say as a result, according to DoD’s own analysis, more than 80% of those persons swept up in this wholesale rounding up were innocents who ended up being released without any charges.
SUSAN BURKE: And for — you know, obviously, from my perspective, even somebody guilty, you don’t torture. But the terribly sad thing here is that, you know, what the military has said in their own reports, you know, gee, we didn’t have quite enough person power, so we reverted to rounding up anyone who looked suspicious. So, for example, if they had someone in a restaurant, they’d arrest the whole restaurant. And then it would take, you know, months, at times even years, for the people to get released. And in the meantime, some fraction of them ended up getting tortured.
AMY GOODMAN: CACI wouldn’t come on — they call themselves CACI — but they did give us a statement, saying “These accusations and allegations are just their latest in ever-changing lawsuit, a rehash of their original baseless submissions, part of their big lie propaganda campaign to keep their lawsuit afloat and their personal political agendas in the public light.” They’re talking about you and the Center for Constitutional Rights.
SUSAN BURKE: Well, certainly, they have taken — they’ve always taken this very aggressive stance: we did nothing wrong, our employees did nothing wrong, we had nothing to do with it. The problem for them as a publicly traded company is that this aggressive posture could, at the end of the day, you know, be considered securities fraud.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
SUSAN BURKE: Well, you can’t just lie. And that’s what CACI is doing. I mean, there is sworn-under-oath testimony about what we put in the complaint. And so, to me, I must say I’m a bit surprised that a publicly traded company would be willing to commit themselves to such misconduct.
AMY GOODMAN: But your original suit against them was filed in 2004. This is three years later. It’s been thrown out of court. You’ve now amended it. Why was it thrown out? How have you changed your strategy?
SUSAN BURKE: Well, it’s never been thrown out. It’s actually always proceeded. It’s the same lawsuit. The only difference is that in the past, we only named seven or eight victims and said that they were going to go forward as a representative of the class of everybody that was tortured. The judge said, no, you know, these are personal injuries, and so it’s not suitable to being treated as a class, so you need to come forward with everyone who’s actually approached you and, you know, put that on file.
The other new thing about this is that, you know, CACI makes the point in their response that it’s ever-changing. Well, yes, it is. We keep learning more and more. And so, this complaint is definitely different than what we first filed, because when we first filed, we didn’t know all of this. And so, we’ve learned a tremendous amount, and we’re going to keep learning a tremendous amount, and we’re going to keep amending the complaint, so that what we’ve learned becomes part of the public record.
AMY GOODMAN: Attorney Susan Burke has filed a lawsuit against CACI with the Center for Constitutional Rights. They’ve also sued Blackwater, the military contractor.