- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Pentagon officials are moving to tighten control over security contractors whose intelligence-gathering activities in Iraq are largely outside the control of U.S., military, international or Iraqi law.

Worried about the lack of oversight of the companies, and the nebulous relationship between them and the military, the Pentagon said it was moving to bring them into line.

“It’s clear that it warrants review, and we are looking at it,” Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, said yesterday after a talk at the American Enterprise Institute.

Several security firms have been used by the military and the CIA to help hunt down suspects and aid in their interrogation, former intelligence officers and lawyers have said, circumventing the normal military or civilian chain of command.

“We are trying to tighten the rules by which these people operate,” Peter W. Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

It was important to make the companies “accountable to military people so they are properly carrying out the roles they are there for,” he said, just days before a scandal regarding the treatment of Iraqi prisoners broke in the media.

Citing an army official, Reuters news agency reported that a prisoner was killed at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad in November 2003 by a private contractor working as an interrogator for the CIA.

Pentagon, Centcom and Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF-7) officials in Baghdad said they were not able to comment on the report.

Employees of security firm CACI International — an Arlington company that advertises its intelligence gathering and analytical services — are suspected of being involved in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Pentagon officials are looking into the terms of CACI’s contract and have said action will be taken if something went wrong.

A lawyer close to the abuse case said the contract was likely a “black world” operation that fell under the purview of the CIA. The lawyer said the military was working on a secret report that deals in part with the role of private security contractors and other members of the intelligence community in prisons in Iraq.

“These are people that the military has hired to assist in investigations,” said one former senior intelligence officer involved in Iraq. He said that some of those employed are retired CIA operatives who have been brought back, usually because of their language abilities.

“I can see them being used in roles of interpreter, but anything beyond that is shocking. I think it’s disgraceful. If you can’t do it yourself, you shouldn’t be contracting it out,” he said.

The ex-intelligence officer said he doubted the military was hiring these contractors to escape accountability so much as to abbreviate the “tortuous tunnels of lawyers and decision makers all the way up the chain.”

“If you have a private firm doing this, aiding in intelligence gathering, you skip all that. Once you sign a contract, you’re done,” he said, adding that the Abu Ghraib incident was not likely to be an isolated case.

“If I had to guess, I would say it’s happened more than just the times we’ve seen now — this is just the most egregious.”

Spc. Daemon Lowell, 22, an interrogator for the 1st Armored Division Artillery Combat Team, insisted that detainees’ human rights are respected — no matter his or her station in life. The tone of the interrogation depends on the detainee’s attitude, he said in a military press release issued in March.

“If they are cooperative and don’t give me a hard time, I am a very friendly person,” he said. “If they decide that they want to play games, well, we play games too.”

A defense official in Washington said the Pentagon was “very concerned about contractors and their performance on the battlefield,” but added that “the majority of our contractors on the battlefield are performing a great service for both the military forces and the Iraqi people.”

The official said he was “unaware of the specific contract” under which private contractors participated in interrogations at Abu Ghraib. “I’m aware of what is reported, but I do not have the details of [this] specific instance.”

But the official insisted that all contractors, including security firms, had to operate under U.S., Iraqi or international law. He did not say who would enforce those laws.

Amnesty International has been warning of human rights abuses of Iraqi detainees at the hands or instruction of the U.S. military for months.

“We raised the question back in May about ill-treatment concerns, and gave the report to the [Coalition Provisional Authority] at the time,” said Amnesty spokesman Alistair Hodgett.

“With regard to the lack of clarity of how private groups are being held accountable — providing security, guarding facilities or the extent to which they are employed by the U.S. or its agencies — it’s time for people to step forward to say who is watching over the nonmilitary individuals operating in Iraq,” Mr. Hodgett said.

“There needs to be an answer from those who are hiring them and placing them inside these facilities,” he said.

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