Inside The Pentagon
by Elaine M. Grossman
June 24, 2004
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Possible Interrogation Contractor Influence Cited In Senate Vote
Two defense contracting companies that provide interrogators or translators to the Army have strongly favored the Republican Party in their political donations over the past year and a half, according to data reviewed by Inside the Pentagon.
Military contracting expert Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution believes industry influence played a role in defeating proposed Senate legislation last week that would have banned private contractors from conducting or translating detainee interrogations at U.S. military installations. The legislation was introduced after a CACI International interrogator and two linguists associated with Titan Corp. were implicated in the Abu Ghraib Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.
The amendment to the fiscal year 2005 defense authorization bill, sponsored by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), was rejected by Republicans in a largely party-line vote June 16.
When revelations appeared in the media in April about the use of private contractors in Abu Ghraib prisoner interrogations, “both sides of the aisle were completely floored,” Singer told ITP June 21. “It took only a month or two for lobbyists to enter the mix.”
CACI, which supplies the U.S. military with private interrogators on contract, has given Republicans $13,150 since January 2003, more than twice the $5,158 the company donated to Democrats, according to data provided to ITP by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.
Over the prior four years — between 1999 and 2002 — CACI’s political spending on Republicans outpaced funds for Democrats 7-to-1, with nearly $23,000 going to the GOP vs. $3,200 for the minority party, according to the center’s data.
Titan, whose language interpreters have participated in military interrogations of prisoners, has contributed $244,350 to Republicans since January 2003, more than seven times the $32,209 it gave to Democrats. Between 1999 and 2002, the company spent more than $268,000 on Republicans, again a 7-1 ratio relative to contributions to Democrats, the data show.
The donations included funds from CACI’s and Titan’s respective political action committees, as well as executives and employees of the companies.
In the case of both companies, many more funds went toward party committees, political action committees, presidential campaigns and House member coffers than were given to individual Senate campaigns.
When it came to presidential campaign donations, the picture was slightly different. CACI split funds almost evenly between President Bush and three of his Democratic primary opponents over the past 18 months. Titan actually favored Democratic presidential contenders over the same period, giving the lion’s share of a total $10,101 to presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), while funding Bush to the tune of $4,200, according to CRP.
The failed Dodd amendment sought to prohibit the military’s use of private interrogators beginning 90 days from enactment. The Pentagon would have had one year to implement a ban on contract translators from military interrogations.
“Most of us believe that this job of interrogation ought not to be done by private contractors,” Dodd argued in June 16 floor debate. “This ought to be inherently a governmental function, and one that is not shopped out or outsourced, if you will, to others, where there is no accountability, no chain of command, no responsibility, and virtual immunity if they do anything wrong under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
Nearly three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, it is “high time that the [Bush] administration moved forward to build a capacity, in-house, to ensure that our intelligence gathering capacity, including interrogation personnel, is adequate to meet the threats that we confront,” Dodd said. “The notion that we can simply outsource this critical responsibility when terrorist incidents spike the demand for interrogation skills by our government seems to be the height of irresponsibility.”
“I thought it made a lot of sense so I was disappointed by the lack of action on it,” says Singer, a national security fellow at Brookings and author of the 2003 book, “Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry.”
The Dodd amendment went down in a 54-43 vote, with three Democrats joining the Republican majority to reject the proposal. No GOP senators backed the measure.
John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World, sees the failed Dodd amendment less as an example of corporate influence and more in the context of several Democratic add-ons to the authorization bill that have been tossed out in nearly strict party-line tallies.
“Republicans are rallying around the president and his war, and Democrats are being critical of the war,” Isaacs said June 22. Consideration of the bill continues in the Senate this week.
Neither Titan nor CACI would say this week whether they lobbied to defeat the Dodd amendment, though CACI Vice President for Public Relations Jody Brown said June 23 her company does “follow this legislation with interest.”
Some in the defense business believe the role of contractors in the Abu Ghraib scandal is “getting blown out of proportion,” said one industry representative, speaking earlier in the week on condition of anonymity.
When Baghdad fell to U.S.-led forces in April 2003, companies like Titan and CACI “provided incredible surge capacity and incredible speed.”
Several Republicans argued in June 16 floor debate that the 90-day deadline for transition to a government-only interrogator force was too stringent and could harm ongoing Pentagon efforts.\Such a measure “cripples America’s intelligence system in the middle of a war in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and our operations in Guantanamo” Bay, Cuba, Sen. John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said during the debate. “There is no way in the world the military . . . can hire and train in this short period of time all the replacements that would be required if the senator’s amendment became law.”\Warner noted that at Guantanamo Bay, where the Bush administration is holding prisoners suspected of terrorist activities, 20 of 40 interrogators are contractors. He said the 90-day provision constitutes “a jackhammer that severs our ability to continue our interrogation of prisoners with the use of contractors.”\CACI provides 27 interrogators in Iraq and there are “hundreds” of Titan translators throughout the country, Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, said at a May 7 hearing of Warner’s committee.
“I don’t buy for a single second, with thousands of people serving in [Iraq and Afghanistan], the idea we can’t find people within our own ranks to do this job,” said Dodd on the Senate floor, calling Warner’s argument “hyperbole.”
“We are about to graduate from the training school for Army intelligence in Arizona this year 539 interrogators within the Army,” he said. “This is intelligence capacity. You do not outsource and farm that out to an unaccountable contractor with little or no experience in interrogations. Don’t members understand what happened here a few [weeks] ago, how much trouble our country is in?”
Singer, the Brookings expert on military contractors, said the Marine Corps has temporarily shut down its interrogator school and deployed instructors overseas. In contrast, the Army has kept its Ft. Huachuca, AZ, interrogation training school open and turned to contractors to fill gaps in deployed interrogator forces, he said. An alternative for the Army might be to deploy Ft. Huachuca’s uniformed interrogation experts and substitute contractors for trainers at the school, Singer said.
“We actually had some people on the bench,” Singer said. “We chose not to use them.”
CACI, a longtime defense contractor, provided interrogation specialists to the Army’s 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which last November was given control over the Abu Ghraib cellblock at which abuses took place. In his investigative report on the scandal, Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba recommended a CACI employee, Steven Stephanowicz, be removed from his interrogator position after instructing military police on “setting conditions” for interrogations in a manner that “equated to physical abuse.”
Titan has provided interpreters to the Army for military interrogations under a five-year contract beginning in 1999, and two of those personnel were implicated in the Taguba report.
Taguba told the Senate Armed Services Committee May 11 that contractors at Abu Ghraib did not supervise MPs, but some Army guards “looked at them as competent authority” in interrogation matters.
Stephanowicz and other contracting personnel named in the report have denied culpability for the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses, according to recent media reports.
Opponents to the Dodd amendment included some Republicans who said they supported phasing out the use of private interrogators but could not agree to the timing.
“Ultimately, I believe that interrogations and other functions should be conducted by uniformed personnel, working directly for the United States government and subject to the web of rules that governs military personnel,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), an influential member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. But, he said, “I am concerned that this amendment would bring to a halt a number of critical functions currently carried out by contractors.””
At the May 7 committee hearing, McCain had sharply questioned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the role of contractors at the U.S.-run prison outside Baghdad. Rumsfeld and Smith, the Central Command deputy, insisted the military intelligence brigade commander took a supervisory role in all interrogations and had “tactical control” over the guards.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also took to the Senate floor in last week’s debate to say he supports the idea of limiting contractor involvement in interrogations, but seeks “a transition period that is more reasonable.”
Advocates of the legislation had argued behind the scenes that, given the authorization bill would not take effect until Oct. 1, the Pentagon would have more than six months to prepare for a transition to government-only interrogators. One congressional aide said, if need be, retired military interrogators could be brought back into service for the war on terror, either in uniform or as civilian employees of the government.
Earlier last week, before the vote, Dodd deleted a provision in the amendment that would have barred contractors from offensive combat operations, responding to concerns Warner raised. But the modification was insufficient to sway the vote.
“We don’t want to see the private sector become a political football,” says Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, a nonprofit consortium of businesses and organizations that provide humanitarian, peacekeeping and reconstruction services worldwide. “The private sector has worked with the military since before 1776 and will continue to. . . . The better they work together, the more effective the operation.”
Brooks says his organization is willing to back changes in contractor support for the government in peacekeeping operations, in the interest of best assisting the U.S. government as its “client.”
If contractors are to continue providing interrogation personnel, that may mean working with Congress to strengthen the law or close loopholes to ensure accountability when abuses take place, he said.
“Whether the guys were wearing camouflage or blue jeans [at Abu Ghraib], they’ve got to be held accountable,” Brooks said.
Singer says the U.S. military has issued so many contracts in Iraq in haste that the Pentagon cannot say exactly how much work has been given to the private sector. He urges the Pentagon “get a proper accounting .
. . of how many contractors it has doing what.”
Second, Singer advises the Defense Department to “determine for yourself what roles are appropriate and what is not.” Finally, he says, “figure out the best ways to fill [urgent needs] on the contractor side . . . in a way that will actually save you money.”
Given the political and military stakes, “it is way too important” to undertake such contracting without sufficient standards and planning, Singer said.
-- Elaine M. Grossman