US court ruling leaves Kirsty Wark with egg on her face

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)Thursday 19 March

Journalist Kirsty Wark, TV presenter Rory Bremner, and radio presenter Grant Stott have highlighted the importance of the Scottish census ahead of its rehearsal in west Edinburgh, Lewis and Harris later this month. But a US court ruling against a company contracted to run the census has left the celebs on shaky ground.

The Scottish census has attracted controversy because of the involvement in it of a UK subsidiary of defence contractor CACI - a company that supplied interrogators to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Human rights campaigners are asking people to refuse to participate in the rehearsal in protest against CACI's involvement.

The announcement of the celebrity endorsement of the census is an apparent response to support given by Scottish writers Iain Banks, Alasdair Gray and Tom Leonard, by journalist John Pilger, by former MP Tony Benn and by former Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, to a petition against CACI's involvement in the census.

But the move by Kirsty Wark, Rory Bremner and Grant Stott seems to have backfired, coming on the same day as a US Federal Court ruled that Abu Ghraib detainees who were tortured and later released without charge can sue CACI. The company had argued that the former detainees' claims should be dismissed on the grounds that, as a contractor to the US Army, it enjoyed official immunity.

Susan L. Burke attorney for the former detainees said today,

"These innocent men were senselessly tortured by a U.S. company that profited from their misery."

SACC says:

"The ongoing case against CACI in the US should make it clear that this isn't a company that deserves Scottish taxpayers' money. It profited from a prison regime that spawned torture and humiliation. It has used legal threats to try to keep its involvement out of the public eye. And it has fought every step of the way to stay out of the courts by hiding behind its status as a US government contractor."

Campaigners argue that, even aside from the allegations made against CACI by former detainess, CACI has, by its own admission, been deeply involved in human rights abuses.

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.

The Scottish census contract, worth £18.5 million, was awarded last June to IT company CACI Ltd, a wholly-owned UK subsidiary of US based CACI International.

For the first time in the UK, people taking part will have the option if filling in the census questionnaires online. CACI Ltd will be responsible for the crucial technology to make this possible, as well as for other key work for the census.

In an acknowledgement of public outrage over the contract award, the Scottish Government announced in January that it had re-structured the contract for the next to prevent CACI obtaining access to personal data about Sottish households.

The move dealt a body-blow to CACI's hopes that the contract would be seen as gesture of confidence in the company. Greg Bradford, Chief Executive Officer of CACI Ltd had said last June:

"We are honoured that GROS [General Register Office for Scotland] has placed its trust in us."

But John Swinney said in January :

"My colleagues and I absolutely understand the views of the people who have written to us about the contract and we have thought very carefully about what we might do as a result. Since my last letter, therefore, we have set up a new contract structure for the census in 2011, designed to minimise the role of CACI (UK) and in particular to distance it from the personal data collected by the census."

Campaigners say that they are still opposed to any involvement by CACI in the Scottish Census.

Households in the west of Edinburgh have this week been receiving hand-delivered census forms. Campaigners have also been leafleting in the area, asking people to refuse to participate in the rehearsal. They say that responses to their campaign have been very positive.

Participation in the rehearsal is optional. But it seems that officials delivering census forms haven't always made that clear.

Notes

  1. Celebs back rehearsal for census in city Edinburgh Evening News, 19 March 2009
  2. Court Rules Abu Ghraib Torture Victims Can Sue Contractor CACI
  3. Ethical Census 2011 - campaign update