Storm brewing over Scottish Census rehearsal

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)
11am Tuesday 17 March

Storm brewing over Scottish Census rehearsal
Island and Edinburgh households set to become human rights battleground

With just 12 days to go until the official rehearsal for the next Scottish Census, the exercise looks certain to be engulfed in controversy. Human rights campaigners are asking people to refuse to take part in the rehearsal in protest at the involvement of a controversial defence company that supplied interrogators to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The next Scottish Census will be held in March 2011. But a massive dry run involving 50,000 households in the west of Edinburgh and in Lewis and Harris is scheduled for Sunday 29 March this year. For the first time in the UK, people taking part will have the option of filling in the census questionnaires online. And people in Lewis and Harris will for the first time be able to complete the questionnaires in Gaelic.

Key work for the census - including the all-important IT work - has been contracted to CACI Ltd, a wholly-owned UK subsidiary of a controversial US defence company that has been involved in human rights abuses in Iraq.

Campaigners have been delivering leaflets door-to-door in the west of Edinburgh. SACC says:

"People are outraged when they find out from us that a company involved in human rights abuses in Iraq will be running the census. But no one in the west of Edinburgh seems to realise that they will be part of the census rehearsal. Our leaflet is the first information they have received about it. The Register Office and their contractors seem to be running scared. I don't understand how they think they can conduct a meaningful rehearsal under a publicity blackout."

From August 2003 until the early autumn of 2005 CACI International was contracted to provide "interrogation services" for the US Army at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. While CACI staff were employed as interrogators at Abu Ghraib, prisoners were humiliated and tortured there by US military police. Photographs of the abuse shocked the world and led to the conviction of a number of low-ranking US soldiers by courts martial.

CACI denies any responsibility for the abuse that was photographed and denies some other allegations of abuse. But instead of answering the allegations in court, it is trying to block lawsuits brought against it by former Abu Ghraib prisoners by claiming "official immunity."

CACI staff interrogated people held without charge or trial at Abu Ghraib. Prisoners they questioned were deprived of human rights guaranteed in international norms. The "rules of engagement" at Abu Ghraib permitted sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation and intimidation by dogs.

When the General Register Office of Scotland announced the award of the census contract to CACI last summer it provoked outrage. The Scottish Government says it "understands the views" of people who have written to it about the contract. It says it has set up a new "contract structure" to "distance" CACI from personal data collected by the census. But it has so far refused to cancel the contract.

Participation in the 2011 census is expected to be compulsory. But participation in this month's rehearsal is optional.

SACC believes that it is completely unacceptable that Scottish taxpayers are being asked to support a company that has been involved in shameful human rights abuses and is trying to use its status as a military contractor to duck accountability in US courts.

There is mounting evidence of British involvement in torture overseas - including the torture of British citizens. The British government appear to be have been complicit in the torture of Binyam Mohamed - a British resident - en route for Guantanamo Bay. And it appears to have been - at the very least - aware of the torture of British citizens in Pakistan and Egypt.

SACC says:

"If governments and corporations can collude in torture without being held to account under the law, no one is safe. CACI International was involved in one of the landmark episodes in the descent of the US and its allies into barbarism. It has so far enjoyed almost complete immunity from facing the consequences of this. Allowing it to run the Scottish census is sending out a very dangerous message. If the Scottish Government won't put a stop to this, then the people of Scotland must do so."

Notes for Editors

Read the leaflet