A Decade Later, Contractor Pays Out Millions for Iraq Prisoner Abuse
Robert Beckhusen – (Wired – Danger Room) – January 9, 2012 – It’s been nearly a decade since private military contractors and U.S. soldiers worked together to torture Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Now, for the first time, one of the companies involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal has been forced to pay victims for the abuse.
The $5.28 million settlement — which was disclosed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in November but “which has gone essentially unnoticed,” according to the Associated Press — involves 71 former inmates of Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons, and private security firm L-3 Services Inc., a subsidiary of Engility Holdings of Chantilly, Virginia.
Until the settlement, the only response to torture and abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison was the military’s criminal convictions of 11 former soldiers. But L-3 Services allowed “scores of its employees to participate in torturing and abusing prisoners over an extended period of time,” the lawsuit stated. Not only that, but the company “willfully failed to report L-3 employees’ repeated assaults and other criminal conduct” to the United States and Iraq.
“Abu Ghraib was one of the worst incidents in recent American military history. But while many of the soldiers involved were properly punished, the same can’t be said for the contractors who were mentioned in the very same Army investigation reports. On one hand, you can look at this settlement as a small step forward, where after literally years of denial and avoidance by the firms, at least a minimal payment was made,” e-mails Peter W. Singer, who runs the Brookings Institution’s 21st Century Defense Initiative. ”Not an admission and not justice, but something better than stonewalling. The fact that all this had to come through a private lawsuit, though, is a pretty sad statement though on the public problems of military outsourcing.”
It’s instructive to look at what ex-inmates say happened to them. According to the lawsuit, one former inmate said he was forced to drink water until he vomited blood. Other allegations include rape, beatings, being slammed into a wall, and one man alleged he was subject to a mock execution at gunpoint. Many reportedly said they were forced to stand naked for long periods.
“Private military contractors played a serious but often under-reported role in the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib,” Baher Azmy, the former detainees’ lawyer and legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told AP. “We are pleased that this settlement provides some accountability for one of those contractors and offers some measure of justice for the victims.”
L-3 Services’ defense in the 2008 lawsuit came down to questioning what the Iraqis knew about who tortured them. A majority “do not even attempt to allege the identity of their alleged abuser” and two provided only “vague assertions,” the company claimed. They also tried to blame the government for the inmates’ treatment, “These plaintiffs bring claims seeking money damages for their detention and treatment while in the custody of the U.S. military in the midst of a belligerent occupation in Iraq,” L-3 Services stated at the time, according to the AP.
L-3 Services isn’t the military, however, but a private company that at the time had less oversight and was outside the regular chain of command, to some extent. That raises a thorny question over what extent the Pentagon has authority — or willingness — to prosecute their own contractors for the crimes they commit. An Army investigation into Abu Ghraib (.pdf) later found that 36 percent of the time that inmates were abused by guards, they were abused by contractors. The Pentagon also didn’t pull its contracts with L-3 after the abuses at Abu Ghraib came to light, and never prosecuted any contractor from any firm for the crimes. ”Soldiers get court martialed, but for the very same incident, the contractors named in the same reports face no individual punishment and their firm just throws high power lawyers at the problem until it decides to make it go away with a token payment?” e-mails Singer.
Contracting firm CACI International Inc. is the next firm expected to go on trial, likely during the summer of 2013. During the war, CACI provided interrogators to the military, who the same Army investigation later found “had little or not interrogator experience” and “little, if any, training on Geneva Conventions.”
Several unnamed CACI employees were later alleged to have been placed in positions of authority over military personnel at Abu Ghraib, and had taken to humiliating prisoners by forcing them to wear women’s underwear, interrogating them using an unmuzzled dog, and forcing prisoners into “stress positions,” among other forms of abuse. Litigation is one way to found out to what extent. But that’s also a different thing from providing actual oversight of contractors in the years to come. (Click HERE for original article)