CACI chief defends company’s interrogation work

Contract employees’ training met military standards, CEO says.

The president and chief executive officer of CACI International Inc., whose employees were hired by the Army to perform interrogations in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, defended his employees' qualifications and took issue with some specific findings of a recent Army report on alleged prison abuses.

In an interview, J.P. "Jack" London called the investigation "a very complicated topic." But he sought to clarify a number of points concerning the CACI interrogators' experience and training, as well as their work at Abu Ghraib. According to London, no more than 10 CACI interrogators worked at the prison complex at any given time.

"The language in that report is a bit unfortunate," London said of the investigation recently completed by Maj. Gen. George Fay. "It gives the impression that [CACI interrogators] were sent over there and didn't know what the hell they were doing, which is patently not the facts of the matter." The Fay report recommended that the Army's general counsel consider referring three CACI employees to the Justice Department for prosecution, alleging that they abused detainees.

London said all his employees met the requirements in the contract's statement of work. CACI received more than 1,600 résumés from prospective interrogators, he said, and winnowed the pool to fewer than 50. "We had quite a massive effort to find people," he said.

London said all employees had levels of training that met military standards. "The statement of work did not require explicit and solely military training," London said. It permitted "an equivalency category that would come from other sources of similar training. Other agencies have those kinds of skills that they pass on." London cited the FBI and the CIA as examples, but he didn't specify where CACI interrogators were trained. The Fay report cited some interrogators' lack of formal military training as a cause for concern. The Army inspector general has found that about 35 percent of the CACI interrogators had not received military training, a figure that London didn't dispute. The Fay report also cited "numerous statements" from military and civilian employees at Abu Ghraib indicating the contractors received "little, if any, training" on the Geneva conventions, which governs treatment of detainees in war zones. "It needs to be made clear that contractor employees are bound by the requirements of the Geneva conventions," the report said.

Before interrogators went to Iraq, London said, they received briefings from military officials on the rules of interrogation. He said some interrogators also received training while working in Abu Ghraib. For example, Army mobile training teams instructed a number of CACI interrogators in Iraq on the interrogation process. The teams came from Ft. Huachuca, Ariz., home of the Army's intelligence training school, and from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, site of another detention and interrogation facility.

The Fay report noted that several military personnel "expressed some concerns about what appeared to them to be a lack of experience with some of the civilian contracted CACI interrogators, and the fact that the [mobile training teams] did not have the opportunity to train and work with some newly arriving contractors."

The mobile training teams were sent to Abu Ghraib based on the recommendations of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who commanded the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Miller was sent to Abu Ghraib to make recommendations on improving interrogation operations so that more useful intelligence could be gleaned from detainees. It's not clear if other mobile training teams had previously been sent to Abu Ghraib.

London also countered the Fay report's assertion that some CACI employees may have been supervising military personnel. The report states that, "Several people indicated . . . that contractor personnel were 'supervising' government personnel, or vice versa." An Army sergeant "indicated that CACI employees were in positions of authority, and appeared to be supervising government personnel." One contractor was "listed as being in charge of screening" of detainees on an organization chart, "with military personnel listed as subordinates."

Though some people at Abu Ghraib might have believed that CACI employees were in charge, London said they never acted outside the supervision and command of military officials. Because CACI employees and military personnel worked side by side, CACI employees "could appear to be leading or supervising," London said. An internal investigation by the company, he said, uncovered no factual basis to support the contention that CACI interrogators were supervising people or processes.

The Fay investigation also found that a CACI employee helped a military officer write the contract's requirements, potentially a violation of federal acquisition regulations. CACI's legal counsel, William Koegel, said, "We are confident that no one associated with CACI crossed any lines in connection with the preparation of the statement of work."

A procurement law expert said such collaboration between corporate and government officials in writing contract requirements raises conflict of interest issues, but is not uncommon. "It's happening every day," said Steven Schooner, the co-director of the Government Procurement Law Program at The George Washington University Law School. Historically, that hasn't been the case, he said. But Schooner added that "this is one of the most pervasive changes that came out of the 1990s acquisition reforms," which gave the government more leeway to interact with industry.