Scottish Census contract is aiding cover-up by Abu Ghraib firm

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
Wednesday 8 October

Human rights group Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) wrote yesterday to John Swinney, Holyrood's Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, to add its voice to calls for the Scottish Government to cancel the Scottish Census contract awarded to CACI Ltd, a UK subsidiary of a company that provided interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The letter reveals for the first time that two SACC members have received letters from lawyers representing CACI International (the parent company that owns CACI Ltd) threatening legal action over a statement published earlier on the SACC website. The statement is still available on the website.

SACC says that the legal threats reflect CACI's long-standing policy of responding vigorously to any unfavourable press coverage. But SACC adds that the policy has until now been mainly targeted at the US media. It says that the Scottish census contract has "provided a means for CACI International to extend its campaign of intimidation" to the UK.

The US based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) has said, in a lawsuit filed against CACI in the US, that "CACI has been an ongoing part" of a "conspiratorial campaign to prevent the truth about the torture, and CACI's participation, from ever being known to the public." CCR describes CACI's threats of legal action against media reporters as "a campaign of intimidation to suppress any coverage or investigation of their role in the conspiracy."

SACC insists that, whatever the truth of the specific allegations against CACI that are currently filed in US courts, CACI's undisputed and substantial involvement in running Abu Ghraib prison is more than enough reason for the Scottish census contract to be cancelled. SACC says in its letter to John Swinney:

"We have no doubt that CACI's largely successful campaign to suppress unfavourable media coverage in the US is part of the explanation for the mistaken decision by GROS to award CACI the Scottish Census contract. In these circumstances, we think that CACI would only have themselves to blame if the contract were to be cancelled."

SACC is hosting an online petition at www.sacc.org.uk/census calling for the cancellation of the contract. Supporters of the petition include journalist John Pilger, veteran Labour politician Tony Benn, anti-nuclear campaigner Bruce Kent, writers Iain Banks and Alasdair Gray and poet Tom Leonard, and MSP Malcolm Chisholm.

The statement over which CACI International have threatened legal action can be found here (SACC condemns award of census contract to subsidiary of "Abu Ghraib" firm).

Letter from SACC to John Swinney (7 October 2008)

Dear Mr Swinney,

I am writing on behalf of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) to ask you to consider cancelling the contract awarded to CACI Ltd for work connected with the Scottish Census. We think that CACI's involvement in the running of Abu Ghraib prison, and its close links to US defence and intelligence interests, make CACI International and all its subsidiaries unfit for any role in the Scottish census.

Two members of SACC - Julia Davidson and myself - have been threatened with legal action by lawyers representing CACI International for publishing an article on the SACC website that sets out the facts about CACI's involvement with Abu Ghraib and expresses the view that the census contract should be cancelled. In their letter to us, CACI's lawyers describe the two excellent articles on this issue published by journalist Neil Mackay in the Sunday Herald as "defamatory."

CACI International has a long-standing policy of responding vigorously to any unfavourable press coverage. The US-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) says that "CACI has been an ongoing part" of a "conspiratorial campaign to prevent the truth about the torture, and CACI's participation, from ever being known to the public." CCR describes CACI's threats of legal action against media reporters as "a campaign of intimidation to suppress any coverage or investigation of their role in the conspiracy." The allegation by CCR that these legal threats are part of a cover-up forms part of some of the cases against CACI filed in US courts on behalf of former Abu Ghraib prisoners.

The letter sent by CACI's lawyers to Julia Davidson and myself links our supposed defamation of CACI International with supposed damage to their "client's contractual relations with GROS." It therefore appears that the Scottish Government's contract with CACI has provided a means for CACI International to extend its campaign of intimidation - which has so far focussed mainly on the US media - into the UK. We think that this is absolutely unacceptable and that the best way to rectify it would be for the Scottish Government to cancel the contract.

We have no doubt that CACI's largely successful campaign to suppress unfavourable media coverage in the US is part of the explanation for the mistaken decision by GROS to award CACI the Scottish Census contract. In these circumstances, we think that CACI would only have themselves to blame if the contract were to be cancelled.

You will no doubt already be aware of the very serious allegations made against CACI by former Abu Ghraib prisoners. The allegations cover a range of criminality, including torture. They form the basis of a number of lawsuits filed in US courts, most recently on 30 June this year. CACI's lawyers last week filed a motion in US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia for the case filed there to be dismissed on the grounds of "absolute official immunity" stemming from CACI's role as a contractor performing government work. As far as I am aware, the court has yet to reach a decision on this matter.

It would be wrong to prejudge any of the cases against CACI currently filed in the US. But we think that CACI's blatant attempts to prevent the substance of the allegations being discussed in court make it an unsuitable business partner for the Scottish Government.

Whatever the eventual outcome of these cases, CACI's undisputed long-term involvement in Abu Ghraib Prison - where appalling prisoner abuse has been proven to have occurred - constitutes grossly unethical conduct. If the proven cases of abuse were to be classified as torture, CACI's substantial involvement in Abu Ghraib would almost certainly fall within the terms of Article 4 of the Convention Against Torture, which requires state parties to the Convention to prohibit "complicity or participation in torture."

Prisoners at Abu Ghraib were held under conditions that deprived them of human rights guaranteed in international human rights norms. This created a clear risk, predictable from the outset and demonstrated in countless similar situations around the world, that prisoners would be vulnerable to abuse. Everyone involved in running Abu Ghraib therefore shared a particular responsibility to guard against abuse. That responsibility was manifestly not met.

CACI is particularly sensitive to any association of its name with the term "torture." It must be remembered that US personnel are known to have carried out "waterboarding" at various locations around the world. Waterboarding undoubtedly constitutes torture, except under the idiosyncratic definition that the US administration has unilaterally proposed. There are credible allegations that US personnel in Afghanistan have carried out other forms of torture, such as long-term exposure to loud noise. And it is highly probable that US agencies have in effect procured torture (including torture of the most extreme forms imaginable) from other governments through the "extraordinary rendition" programme.

In these circumstances, anyone working with or for the US to interrogate prisoners in connection with the "war of terror" is under an especially clear obligation, stemming from Article 4 of the Convention Against Torture, to be alert and proactive in preventing torture. CACI chairman J Phillip London and others have written a 750-page book entitled "Our Good Name" defending CACI's handling of the Abu Ghraib scandal. Nowhere in the book do they describe any measures that in our view come close to meeting this obligation.

CACI's consistent response to concerns over Abu Ghraib has been to disassociate itself from proven abuses to the absolute minimum extent required for compliance with US law, while expressing pride in its involvement in Abu Ghraib to the absolute maximum extent possible without breaking the law.

In this way, CACI has given assistance to a disturbing trend - largely inspired by the US Administration - to legitimise human rights abuses that would previously have been unthinkable amongst democratic countries.

According to the book "Our Good Name," CACI's only business loss resulting from this behaviour has been the cancellation by Gateshead Council in England of a £90,000 contract with CACI's UK division. The book does not record any attempt by CACI to seek legal redress for this loss.

We think that the Scottish Government should refuse to let CACI get its hands on Scottish census forms unless and until CACI has been properly held to account in law for its involvement in Abu Ghraib and has demonstrated a serious commitment to respect human rights.

We certainly do not think that the Scottish Government - a government that is opposed to the war in Iraq - should assist CACI's attempts at self-laundering or provide CACI, however unintentionally, with the means to attempt to censor Scottish newspapers like the Sunday Herald and Scottish campaigning groups like SACC. If CACI can succeed in doing that, no one in Scotland will have any confidence that the Scottish Government won't itself succumb to censorship.

 

Yours sincerely
Richard Haley
(Secretary, SACC)