Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

GAO: Private Contractors Perform Poorly At Overseas Military Prisons

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released April 29, 2005, criticized the militarys poor management of private contractors in Iraq and put partial blame for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal on private contractors and their poor management. The report had been requested in a letter by Rep. David Price, D-NC, that was cosigned by over 100 members of congress. The GAO is an investigative agency of Congress that audits the federal government.

They have confirmed our concerns, said Price. There is confusion about the tasks assigned to contractors, a lack of oversight to ensure their safety, question as to their chain of command and inadequate information on their cost and effectiveness.

The report also criticized the misuse of Department of Interior contracts for information technology to pay for private interrogators and screeners used at the Abu Ghraib military prison complex. This practice was part of what is termed interagency contracting, using workers from a pre-existing contract to another federal agency to meet interrogation and other military support requirements urgently needed in Iraq.

David Cooper of the GAO said that Abu Ghraib was a good example of the total mishandling of private contractors. The private contractors often were responsible for their own oversight and checked their own qualifications. The result was that underqualified personnel were hired and inappropriate behavior, such as the abuse of prisoners, was not punished. [Editors Note: As previously reported in PLN, the punishment of military members who torture and murder Iraqi prisoners is largely non existent.]

In two internal Army reports by two generals investigating the Abu Ghraib scandal, employees of two private contractors, CACI International, Inc. of Arlington, Virginia, and Titan Corporation of San Diego, California, were implicated in the abuse of prisoners. Those contractors have been sued by ex-Abu-Ghraib prisoners who claim to have been abused. [PLN Nov. 2004, p. 36].

One area in which the contracting process was a total failure was food procurement. After the military reopened Saddam Husseins infamous Abu Ghraib prison as a military prison, it gave the prisoner food procurement contract to a Qatar-based private contractor, American Service Center (ASC). ASC, which is affiliated with another company, Advanced Internet Center, claims to work with military contractors and the U.S. Army in Qatar. Its web site offers assistance with housing, car rental, telephone service and internet service.

In late 2003 and early 2004, ASC delivered food to Abu Ghraib that was rotten, insect infested, and contaminated with fecal material, dirt and rats. The food made prisoners sick, causing them to vomit and break out in boils. It also gave the impression among the Iraqis that America was incapable of feeding the prisoners in its charge.

Army Major David Dinenna of the 320th Military Police Battalion repeatedly attempted to get help from his superiors regarding the food situation at Abu Ghraib. Despite a number of increasingly desperate emails in October and November 2003, the problem was ignored by his superiors until a riot broke out over food on November 24, 2003.

The Armys response to the riot was brutal. Four prisoners were shot. The soldiers, who could not understand the prisoners Arabic, believed that a mass escape was being attempted. A subsequent Pentagon investigation confirmed that the prisoners were protesting the inedible food at the prison. The investigation also concluded that none of the guards had been aware of the food problems at Abu Ghraih. The guards initially used non-lethal rounds, but ran out. They then used lethal ammunition.

ASCs contract manager, Ray Parks, a 56-year-old Virginian and Vietnam veteran who was preparing to resign from ASC, was murdered on February 16, 2004. Three black-robed gunmen ambushed him in the driveway of his Baghdad home. ASCs owner and CEO, Ali Hadi, claims that all knowledge about how the Abu Ghraib food contract was run died with Parks.

Since May 2004, the food service contract has been given to another company that is handling the job better than ASC did. According to Army spokesman Jeff Mcgruder, the prisoners meals now far exceed all international standards for calorie content and provide food that is more culturally sensitive. Also, during Ramadan (a Muslim holy month that features dawn-to-dusk fasting) they worked an alternate chow schedule to assist those who were fasting.

As early as November 2003, interrogators were complaining that the substandard food was making prisoners so sick that they couldnt be properly interrogated and tortured. However, it took a riot, four deaths and seven months to finally get some changes made on the food level. That is a sobering reflection of the poor quality of Army contract oversight.

Sources: Miami Herald-Sun,, Washington Post.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login