Tuesday, May 04, 2004

And Worser

General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bob Schieffer on Sunday's "Face the Nation" that he had not yet seen the so-called "Taguba Report" on prisoner abuse in Iraqi prisons. The report was still working its way up through channels, the General said.

Yet, two weeks prior to the airing of photos on "60 Minutes II" showing the prisoner abuse, General Myers was actively (and successfully) lobbying CBS to delay its broadcast: "Two weeks ago, 60 Minutes II received an appeal from the Defense Department, and eventually from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, to delay this broadcast -- given the danger and tension on the ground in Iraq. 60 Minutes II decided to honor that request, while pressing for the Defense Department to add its perspective to the incidents at Abu Ghraib prison. This week, with the photos beginning to circulate elsewhere, and with other journalists [specifically Seymour Hersh] about to publish their versions of the story, the Defense Department agreed to cooperate in our report." (Quotation from the CBS 60 Minutes II official site.)

Pretty nimble footwork by a general who says he hasn't seen what the Army's investigation turned up. Call it anticipatory damage control or remarkable precognition.

From The Guardian in England, the news surfaced on Saturday that two American private contractors are now deeply implicated in the brutality: "According to military officials, the investigation will also encompass the role of private contractors in military prisons, after a military investigation found that two such firms, CACI International Inc and The Titan Corporation, played a central role in interrogation of prisoners and translation."

A story in the LA Times on Saturday deepened the suspicion, at least, that the private contractors may have had more of a hand in this mess: "A lawyer for one of the accused soldiers -- and some members of their families -- said CACI employees had encouraged military police to abuse prisoners to 'soften them up' for questioning. That allegation has not been confirmed by Army officials. 'The company has received no indication from the Army that any CACI employee was involved in any alleged improper conduct with Iraqi prisoners,' said a statement from CACI, which has about 7,600 employees worldwide."

CACI, incidentally, is headquartered in Arlington, Va., and supposedly does "intelligence" for the Army. "Intelligence" work evidently includes routine interrogations: "At Abu Ghraib [prison], CACI conducted interrogations and a second U.S. company, San Diego-based Titan Corp., provided interpreters, industry and military sources said."

Before with private contractors, we had only garden-variety problems: bribery, cost overruns, and corruption. Now we've got prisoner abuse. This is what privatization gets you. Among other things.

A lengthy report on all this was published yesterday in Forbes (here).

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