Census contract with human rights abuser CACI must be cancelled

SACC welcomes news that CACI's role in the next Scottish census is to be cut back, but re-affirms its demand for the contract to be cancelled

The Sunday Herald has ( Controversial US firm’s role in census cut back, 7 June ) drawn attention to moves by the Scottish Government to minimise access to data about Scottish households given to census contractor CACI - a company that has been involved in human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But there will be no cut-back in the £18.5 million being paid to CACI for its work on the census.

The Scottish Government's plan to re-structure the census contract was revealed in a letter sent in January to Malcolm Chisholm MSP by John Swinney, Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth and was reported by SACC in February. The Sunday Herald has now reported a similar statement made in a letter to Dave Thomson MSP , dated April 30, by Jim Mather, the energy, enterprise and tourism minister.

SACC welcomes the admission by the Scottish Government that people in Scotland have good reason to be worried about handing personal information to CACI. The news will come as a serious blow to CACI's international reputation. CACI has previously sought to portray the census contract as a sign of the confidence placed in it by the General Register Office for Scotland.

But we think it's wrong that Scottish taxpayers should be giving £18.5 million to a company involved - through its US parent company - in shameful human rights abuses.

CACI UK is a wholly-owned subsidiary of US-based CACI International, a company that employed civilian interrogators who worked for the US Army at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq at a time when photographs of abuse there shocked the world. CACI International is now being sued in the US by four former Abu Ghraib detainees, who say that CACI was responsible, with others, for their torture and abuse. The Sunday Herald reports that Jim Mather said in his letter that CACI "strongly denies the allegations of abuse".

In fact, CACI only denies some of the allegations. Its actions and statements suggest that it strongly supports the US policy of detention without charge or trial at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. This policy deprived prisoners of human rights guaranteed in international human rights norms. And CACI sent its staff to work under military 'rules of engagement' that permitted the abuse of prisoners by sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation and intimidation by dogs. That amounts to clear support for a system that permitted gross abuse.

CACI's legal strategy in the US has so far been to insist that it operated within US 'rules of engagement' and within White House policy. That's a defence that won't impress people in Scotland and probably wouldn't impress a Scottish or European court.

CACI's insurer, St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. has refused to defend it in the torture lawsuit. A US Federal court recently upheld the insurer's right to refuse support for CACI in this case.

CACI nevertheless continues to land lucrative US government contracts. This year it won US government and military contracts worth $1.8 billion, according to the company's news releases. They include a $114 million contract to support national security and intelligence.

CACI isn't a suitable business partner for the Scottish government. The government must cancel contract immediately. It should seek compensation from CACI for any costs incurred by cancelling the contract. It appears from material provided by the General Register Office of Scotland (GROS) in response to Freedom of Information requests that CACI failed to inform GROS adequately about its role at Abu Ghraib and about the lawsuits brought against it in the US.

SACC delivered leaflets about CACI's involvement in human rights abuses to over a quarter of the 50,000 households involved in the official Scottish census rehearsal at the end of March. If the contract isn't cancelled we will continue to campaign to make sure everyone in Scotland knows about the abuses by the time of the 2011 census - just weeks before the likely date of the next Scottish election.

In the meantime, the lawsuit against CACI continues to grind its way through the US courts. It's likely to throw up some interesting surprises. CACI's lawyers seem hell-bent on a double gamble. They are betting that they can convince the judges and the White House that if their clients are held to account, former administration officials will be in the dock too. And they are betting that the judges and the White House won't want that to happen. The Scottish Government has so far refused to detach itself from this politico-legal high-wire act. If they stay attached, they'll need a lot of luck if they are to emerge unhurt.

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