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No Restraint, No Consequences: Privatizing Overseas Intelligence Extraction

by Matthew T. Clarke

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based nonprofit legal center, helped Iraqi prisoners file a class-action lawsuit against private "interrogation services" contractors Titan Corporation and CACI International Incorporated alleging that Iraqi citizens being held without charges were horrifically abused and murdered while falsely imprisoned by the U.S. in Iraq. See: Saleh v. Titan Corp., USDC SD CA, Case No. 04-CV-1143R (NLS). The suit was primarily filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. It reveals a troubling trend toward privatizing the extraction of information from people being detained by the U.S. government at overseas prisons.

Privatizing Interrogation

Since 2001, the government has increasingly privatized the collection of intelligence. Previously the domain of a few high-technology companies that aided in the collection of information using sophisticated electronic and space-based technology, the private information gathering industry has ballooned into a multi-billion dollar a year monster in which a few huge companies have devoured most of the smaller firms and expanded their contracts to include interrogation of prisoners and the provision of interpreters for government interrogators. Two of these firms are at the heart of the suit.

Between January 1, 1998, and the issuance of its 2003 annual repot, Titan Corporation swallowed up 19 government information technology businesses, including SEMCOR, Pulse Engineering, BTG Inc., Unidyne Corp., VisiCom Services Inc., and Eldyne Inc. Titan is almost wholly dependent upon federal government contracts, which comprised 96% of its business in 2004. Business is booming for Titan, with revenues of $459 million in the first quarter of 2004, an increase of 21% over first quarter 2003.

CACI has a similar business profile. Its second quarter 2004 revenues of $263.4 million represented a 29% increase compared with the second quarter in 2003. Most of CACI's revenue comes from federal government contracts for network services and intelligence service work. Since 2000, CACI has swallowed up XEN Corp., selected assets of Special Projects Business of Radian International, LLC, a subsidiary of URS Corp., Applied Technology Solutions of Northern Virginia, Premier Technology Group, Inc., C-CUBED Corp. and Acton Burnell, Inc.

The acquisitions of both companies were for the purpose of increasing their intelligence services offerings to the federal government. Both companies' officials maintain close ties with senior government officials and attribute their success in receiving government contracts to those ties. Both companies (and one other company which is not a defendant) formed a joint enterprise known as Team Titan. Team Titan was retained to provide interrogation services in Iraq and Guantànamo Bay (Gitmo), Cuba, a prison located on a military base in which "detainees" from Afghanistan and elsewhere are being held, often for years without charges. To this end, Team Titan hired employees and subcontracted to provide interrogation services, paying far in excess of the prevailing fair market rate for those employees due to the large number of contracts it had entered into to provide the military and other government agencies with interrogation services. According to papers filed in the suit, Team Titan screened potential employees to weed out those not willing to commit illegal acts of abuse and torture for the higher wages.

Increasing Interrogation Profits Using Torture

The suit alleges that Team Titan, knowing that the amount of interrogation services contracted for would be directly proportional to the government's perception of the amount of information that could be obtained by interrogation, conspired to falsely imprison innocent persons and torture them so that they divulged information (true or untrue) just to end or mitigate their torture. The suit alleges that the defendants really didn't care whether the information was factual or not, or whether they complied with relevant laws, treaties and regulations, so long as they fulfilled intelligence gathering quotas set by the U.S. government. In this, they were allegedly assisted by some U.S. government officials. This allowed Team Titan to earn many millions of dollars for providing interrogation services and allowed the individual torturers to earn exceptionally high salaries.

Specific Allegations of Abuse and Torture

The suit alleges that Guantànamo Team Titan members had "developed an approach to interrogation (tiger teams) based on study and review of what practices would be most humiliating to those practicing the Muslim faith." In late 2003, five Gitmo interrogation teams were sent to Iraq to set up a "Gitmo-style" prison at Abu Ghraib. The abuse there was sanctioned and systemic. Abuse and torture of uncharged prisoners in Iraq is alleged to have occurred at battle group unit stations, Al-Baghdai, Heat Base and Habbania Camp in the Ramadi governorate, Camp Buka prison, Bagdad International Airport detention center (Camp Cropper), the Ministry of Defense in Bagdad, the Presidential Palace in Bagdad, Umm Qasr prison camp, the Wood Building, the Steel Building, a former train station in Al-Kaim, near the Syrian border, the former mukhabarat office in Basrah, the Tikrit holding area formerly known as the Saddam Hussein Islamic School and several Iraqi police station in Bagdad. Thus, it could not have been the unauthorized actions of a few sadistic night shift guards at Abu Ghraib as spun by the mainstream media. [Editor's Note: U.S. counter insurgency practice has long been to use assorted civilian buildings as makeshift torture and assassination centers.]

The specific acts of torture and abuse described in the suit are sickening. Male and female prisoners were raped and threatened with rape, including threats of sodomy with a stick after having been forced into a dog position. They were kicked with heavy military boots and beaten with guns, electric wire, and an iron skewer over all parts of their bodies, including genitalia. Male prisoners were hooded, herded into a room where they were forced to listen to a female prisoners' screams as she was tortured.

Prisoners were given electric shocks to their genitalia, anuses, and tongues and shocked with electric guns. Many were stripped, doused with cold water and left outside in the winter. Almost all were stripped, bound on the hands and feet and threatened with fierce attack dogs snarling and snapping inches from their faces.

Most prisoners were forced to stand on one leg and/or with hands above their heads for days and beaten if they moved. They were forced to remain outside in the summer's burning sun and winter's freezing winds for days without clothing. Some were forced to watch the torture of other prisoners, including family memberssometimes unto death.

Prisoners were routinely deprived of sleep by the playing of loud music or release of attack dogs among the tents at night. They were hooded with a bag of heavy material that made breathing difficult for days on end. Most were shown photographs of other prisoners being sexually abused and forced to perform sexual acts on personnel in U.S. military uniforms and told that they would suffer the same fate if they didn't answer questions.

Some prisoners were dragged about by a leash on the hot summer sand, suffering severe burns that still required post-release medical attention. When they tried to pray, defendants would put their boots on the prisoners' heads and grind them into the ground. When they tried to read the Quran, defendants would play very loud rock music.

Prisoners were deprived of food, water and hygiene facilities. Some prisoners' toenails were pulled out. Weights were hung from some prisoners' necks for extended periods, causing spinal damage.

During the torture, prisoners' were told that their families would be murdered if they did not answer questions to the interrogators' satisfaction. They were coerced to beat other prisoners. Their Islamic faith was ridiculed and they were constantly verbally humiliated.

The prisoners' houses were ransacked and damaged when they were arrested. Money and valuables were stolen. Often family members who were also arrested disappeared into the U. S. government's prison system and have not been heard from since. Sometimes people being arrested were beaten to death as an example to the others being arrested. All of the torture and abuse took place while prisoners were being held incommunicado.

Proof of the Allegations

Many of the individual claims by the prisoners are documented in the May 5, 2004, U.S. Army's Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade, by Major General Antonio M. Taguba (Taguba Report), and in the February 2004 Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the Treatment by the Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War and Other Protected Persons by the Geneva Conventions in Iraq During Arrest, Internment, and Interrogation. Those reports, which are attached as exhibits to the suit's complaint, confirm the beatingssometimes to deathtorture, physical abuse and sexual abuse of prisoners in Iraq. Both reports also confirm that the abuse was widespread; however, the Taguba report focuses on Abu Ghraib prison and documents fewer incidents of abuse. Interestingly, the Taguba report finds, contrary to the previous military investigation of prisoner abuse by Major General Ryder, that "Military Intelligence (MI) interrogators and Other US Government Agency's interrogators actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses." These MI personnel included civilian contractors, one of who, Adel Nakhla, a translator for Titan Corp., is named as a suspect in the Taguba report.

No other MI personnel is named as a suspect, despite the finding that the MI personnel instructed the MPs to abuse the prisoners. This is probably because U.S. contractors in Iraq under-the Iraqi Governing Council were in a utopia of unaccountability when it came to criminal acts. Contractors were not within the sovereign territory of the United States, and thus not subject to its laws. They were not members of the United States Armed Forces, and thus not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice which govern the conduct of U.S. military personnel. They were also specifically exempted from Iraqi law in their contracts with the CF. Thus, they were not criminally accountable to anyone.

The chilling ICRC report described the typical arrest as Coalition Forces (CF) breaking down the door to a house at night, forcing all occupants to the floor of one room, handling them roughly (including pushing, punching, striking with weapons, verbally insulting and pointing weapons at them). All adult males would then be hooded, tightly flex-cuffed and led away, including the elderly, ill and infirm. Valuables would be seized, but not receipted.

At other times, persons would be arrested at road blocks or during street sweeps. Such arrests were equally brutal and were often accompanied by beatings, sometimes to death, of the arrested person. Since CF did not notify families, the ICRC or any other outside organization of their detention, such people essentially disappeared so far as their families knew.

Especially illuminating was an ICRC interview with military intelligence officers who estimated that between 70% and 90% of the detainees in Iraq had been arrested by mistake. The same military intelligence officers attributed the brutality of the arrests to lack of proper supervision of the battle group units making the arrests. Essentially, they were saying that the soldiers had been trained to kill an enemy, not to arrest a suspect like police officers.

In the fall of 2003, Paul Bremer repeatedly brought up the topic of abuse of prisoners in Iraq to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other administration officials. Officials described him as "kicking and screaming about the need to release thousands of uncharged prisoners and improve conditions for those who remain." Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote a strongly worded letter to Rumsfeld on April 14, 2003, urging that the mistreatment of prisoners be halted and asserting that the prisoner abuse itself was a threat to national security. However, after months of intense pressure produced no real results, State Department officials became frustrated. Defense was running the show in Iraq, not State.

Most Americans probably thought that Secretary Rumsfeld was speaking euphemistically when he said he was responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. After all, the way he said it tended to make one believe that interpretation. It now appears that he is indeed directly responsible for failing to correct and even blocking the correction of prisoner abuses in Iraq (not to mention the holding of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians in deplorable conditions). However, just as with the private interrogation services contractors, Rumsfeld's responsibility appears to be without consequences. What exactly does it mean to say that "I am responsible" for horrendous crimes, and expect not be punished for the crimes? Does the word "responsibility" have any true meaning under those circumstances?

Lending further credibility to the prisoners' allegations is the fact that, since the scandal broke with the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos, many of the prisoners have been released without any charges. Thus, we are not dealing with convicted criminals or terroristsor even suspected criminals or terroristswho are describing the conditions of confinement, but rather ordinary citizens who were caught up in a for-profit chamber of horrors, telling us about their U.S. taxpayer-financed ordeal. This should command our attention.

Cover Up

After the ICRC report was issued and other investigations into prisoner abuse in Iraq began, those involved in the abuse attempted to cover up their actions by issuing "International Death Certificates" for the prisoners they tortured to death, listing "cardio-respiratory arrest _ asphyxia" as the cause of death. The "cause of the condition" was listed as "unknown." They also attempted to discredit the ICRC report and reports by Amnesty International and allied countries by persuading administration officials that the reports were not credible. These efforts worked for a few monthsuntil the release of the Abu Ghraib torture photos. They might be working still today had it not been for those brave souls who dared expose the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.


As the photos (which failed to show the most horrific abuses) that brought the mainstream media into the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal are forgotten by the public and the government attempts to blame the entire affair on a few low-ranking reserve soldiers, this lawsuit may be the only way to get the truth out. Meanwhile, little mention has been made of the role of private contractors in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. There seems to be a fundamental flaw in thinking that such essential government functions as the collection of intelligence (or the running of prisons) should be contracted out to private enterprise which is often more interested in profiting than in performing the governmental function competently.

Afterall, American soldiers and employees have historically shown themselves to be perfectly capable of committing these crimes on their own, at far less expense, than private companies.

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Related legal case

Saleh v. Titan Corp.