(originally published in the Huffington Post)
This June, a federal court dismissed Iraqi torture victims’ suit against military contractor CACI for its role in their abuse at Abu Ghraib, because the “alleged conduct giving rise to their claims occurred exclusively on foreign soil.” CACI released a statement that, “[w]e are gratified by the court’s decision and hope this is the end of these baseless lawsuits,” and recently followed up with a motion to force the plaintiffs to pay its court costs.
I worked on those lawsuits for many years, ending in 2011. They were not baseless. CACI is remarkably lucky that none of the cases ever made it to trial. The country has largely forgotten the company’s role in Abu Ghraib; the trial would have been a powerful reminder.
Several of the military police (MPs) who were court-martialed for Abu Ghraib have testified that CACI employees Daniel Johnson and Steven Stefanowicz ordered them to abuse detainees. Charles Graner and Ivan Frederick, the two MPs generally regarded as the ringleaders of the Abu Ghraib abuses, gave detailed accounts of Stefanowicz’s and Johnson’s role during court martial testimony and interviews with the Army Criminal Investigative Division (CID).
Graner told CID investigators in 2005 that it was Stefanowicz who had first encouraged him to mistreat detainees: “[w]hen we had come to the block I had come in with a correctional officer’s mindset of care, custody and control… I’m going to do the least amount of work possible and get paid for it, because that’s what corrections officers do. And that lasted for about a day, and then I met Big Steve.” Stefanowicz, Graner said, taught him to deprive detainees of sleep, take their clothes off, and handcuff them in stress positions in preparation for interrogation. (Graner would later engage in these and other abuses without any prompting from Stefanowicz or any other interrogator).
Graner remembered Stefanowicz directing MPs to be particularly brutal towards one detainee nicknamed “Taxi Cab Driver,” whose real name was Amjad Ismail Waleed. Sabrina Harman corroborated Graner’s statements about Stefanowicz’s role in “Taxi Cab Driver’s” abuse, as did Waleed himself. At a deposition for Harman’s court martial, Waleed testified that “Steve used to tell them to torture the guy in room #1, and used to come and watch the torture and laugh, sometimes he spits, and hit me once or twice.” Waleed said that this had begun before Charles Graner’s unit arrived at Abu Ghraib.
Ivan Frederick testified during the court martial of Army dog handlers Santos Cardona and Michael Smith that Stefanowicz had told him to menace one detainee with military dogs: “I was told by his interrogator, Big Steve, that he was al-Qaida,” said Frederick. “He said, ‘Any chance you get, put the dogs on.” There is photographic evidence of that detainee, Ashraf al-Juhayshi, being menaced by a black dog, and of “Taxi Driver” handcuffed naked in a stress position with women’s underwear on his head, although Stefanowicz himself does not appear in any of the Abu Ghraib photographs. Stefanowicz was never called as a witness during the dog handlers’ courts martial, but both the prosecution and defense stipulated to his role in directing soldiers to threaten detainees with dogs.
Frederick also alleged under oath that Daniel Johnson had instructed him to cover a detainee’s mouth and nose to stop his breathing, and inflict pain on him using “pressure points.” Graner told military investigators that he witnessed Johnson instructing Iraqi guards to torture a prisoner by “smacking [the prisoner] on the bottom of his feet and then forcing him to walk.”
CACI has strenuously denied these allegations, as have Stefanowicz and Johnson through counsel. They point out that Graner and Frederick have an incentive to shift blame for their own illegal conduct. But investigations led by Major General Antonio Taguba, Major General George Fay, and the Army Criminal Investigative Division found soldiers’ allegations about CACI personnel credible.
Taguba found that Stefanowicz had lied to investigators, and told MPs “to facilitate interrogations by ‘setting conditions’ which were neither authorized and in accordance with applicable regulations/policy. He clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse.” Fay’s report found that Stefanowicz (identified as CIVILIAN-21 in the report) has threatened detainees with dogs, and made false statements to investigators. Fay found that Johnson (CIVILIAN-11) had encouraged Frederick to abuse detainees, threatened to use dogs on detainees, and placed a detainee in a stress position. Military criminal investigative division investigators later found probable cause that Johnson had violated the federal assault statute, and that Stefanowicz had violated the laws against conspiracy, assault, and making false statements.
Despite this, the Department of Justice never charged Stefanowicz, Johnson, or any other CACI employee for their role at Abu Ghraib. We still do not know why that is. There are some clues in government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, but they are so heavily redacted that they raise more questions than they answer. I will explore them further in a follow-up to this post.