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Register Office admits it knew of census contractor's Abu Ghraib links

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
21 October 2008

In a letter issued yesterday in response to a Freedom of Information request, the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) says that when it awarded controversial company CACI a contract for Scottish census it was "fully informed by the company about the work which CACI (UK)'s US parent undertook at Abu Ghraib." GROS also admits that it knew of CACI's plans to censor the media by threats of legal action.

Another of the questions put to GROS was:

"Did GROS take into account the unethical nature of the work done by CACI International Inc at Abu Ghraib Prison in 2003-2005 (the ethical issue arises from involvement in detention under policies that Amnesty International says deprive detainees of human rights guaranteed in international human rights norms; the issue exists whether or not CACI International Inc is found to be guilty of offences under US law)?"

GROS says that "the allegations against the company have not been proved." But it does not address the historical fact of CACI's involvement in the detention of people deprived of normal legal rights. So it seems that the short answer to the question is "No, GROS did not take into account the unethical nature of the work done by CACI International Inc at Abu Ghraib Prison."

Former Abu Ghraib prisoners have filed a number of lawsuits against CACI in US courts. In one case, filed on 30 June on behalf of Suhail Najim Abdullah Al Shimari, it is alleged that:

"The facts known to date show that Dugan, other CACI employees (e.g. Steven Stefanowicz (hereinafter "Big Steve") and Daniel Johnson), and L-3 employees (e.g. Adel Nakhla), conspired with certain military personnel to torture prisoners kept at the Abu Ghraib hard site. Dugan and other corporate employees instigated, directed, participated in, aided, and abetted conduct towards prisoners that clearly violated the Geneva Conventions, the Army Field Manual, and the laws of the United States."

"Defendant Dugan personally engaged in the torture of prisoners. Dugan threw a handcuffed and hooded prisoner from a vehicle onto the ground, and dragged him across the rocks to an interrogation booth, bruising the prisoner. Whenever the prisoner tried to get up to his knees, Dugan knocked him down again."

"Defendant Dugan bragged to other interrogators that he had broken an Iraqi general during interrogation by threatening the general's son. Dugan and other interrogators had roughed up the son, ripped his clothes, and smeared mud on him, to make it look as though he had been severely beaten, and brought him into his father's interrogation booth."

"Defendant Dugan struck prisoners, deprived them of sleep, stripped them naked, shackled them in painful positions, and threatened prisoners and their family members."

In the same case, it is also alleged that

"CACI has been an ongoing part of this conspiratorial campaign to prevent the truth about the torture, and CACI's participation, from ever being known to the public."

In their letter, GROS misleadingly describe the legal cases brought in the US against CACI in relation to Abu Ghraib as "unsuccessful." Various cases have in fact been halted or temporarily stalled by CACI's attempts to claim official immunity because its work was ordered by the US government. But the substance of the allegations against CACI has yet to be considered in court.

GROS are simply parotting CACI's corporate spin. Even more disturbingly, Census Director Peter Scrimgeor said yesterday, in response to a separate freedom of information request, that "I can confirm that GROS was informed about legal action that could be initiated by CACI in response to criticism of the company following a number of media reports. "

Members of SACC have been targeted with legal threats in letters dated 10th and 17th September from lawyers acting for CACI International. The material complained of is still on our website, as is an online petition calling for the contract to be cancelled. No legal action has yet been forthcoming and we are confident that our website sets out the facts of the matter fairly. But we are disappointed, to say the least, to find that an arm of the Scottish Government has been privy to CACI's attempts to censor Scottish campaigners and Scottish media.

A Scottish Government spokesman commenting on the CACI contract in August said: "The Scottish Government would never be party to a contract with any company convicted of human rights abuses. We, and government agencies such as GROS, are fundamentally committed to ethical conduct." And GROS say in yesterday's letter "We would never knowingly be party to a contract with any company convicted of human rights abuses."

But yesterday's letter from GROS also admits: "There is no specific provision [for termination of the contract] for the event mentioned i.e. that CACI International Inc or its staff are either convicted of a criminal offence in the US, or held liable under US civil law for human rights abuses."

There's a way out of this. The Scottish Government should cancel the contract right now. SACC has written to John Swinney asking him to do exactly that. It's not very likely that CACI would want to face the Scottish Government across a courtroom.

Notes for Editors

  1. Full Freedom of Information response from GROS (dated 20 October 2008)
  2. online petition .Supporters include Tony Benn, John Pilger, Iain Banks, Bruce Kent and Alasdair Gray
  3. Al Shimari case - details from the Cemter for Constitutional Rights (CCR)
  4. Letter from SACC to John Swinney