Army policy bans letting private contractors do interrogations

MATT KELLEY, Associated Press Writer

Saturday, June 12, 2004

(06-12) 08:40 PDT WASHINGTON (AP) --

The Army hired private interrogators to work in Iraq and Afghanistan despite the service's policy of barring contractors from military intelligence jobs such as interrogating prisoners.

A policy memo from December 2000 says letting private workers gather military intelligence would jeopardize national security.

An Army spokeswoman said senior commanders have the authority to override the contractor ban.

Some of the dozens of private contractors hired to interrogate prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan are under investigation in connection with abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad and other prisons. Army investigators are looking into whether the contracts were awarded properly.

The Abu Ghraib case also stirred criticism from some Democrats that the Pentagon was relying too heavily on private contractors, even for military functions such as collecting intelligence.

Thomas White, who quit as Army secretary last year after clashing with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said he opposed hiring contractors to question prisoners.

"The principle that should be applied is that the basic process of interrogation and oversight of prisoners should be kept in-house, on the Army side," White said in a telephone interview. "That's something that would have to be under the direct supervision of the Army."

Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Pamela Hart said Saturday that the contractor ban remains in effect. The policy allows for hiring private interrogators and interpreters if there are not enough of those specialists in the Army.

"Commanders on the ground may use their discretion," Hart said.

The Army's top personnel official, Patrick T. Henry, wrote the policy in December 2000.

Henry cited a "risk to national security" in turning over intelligence functions to private sector workers. Private contractors may work for companies that do business with other countries and are not subject to the same chain of command that soldiers are, Henry wrote.

"Reliance on private contractors poses risks to maintaining adequate civilian oversight over intelligence operations," Henry wrote. "Civilian oversight over intelligence operations and technologies is essential to assure intelligence operations are conducted with adequate security safeguards and within the scope of law and direction of the authorized chain of command."

An Army report on the abuses at Abu Ghraib says problems at the prison included confusion over who was in charge of contractors and a lack of supervision of the private workers.

The report from Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba says one contract interrogator, Steven Stefanowicz of CACI International, and a contract translator, John B. Israel of Titan Corp., were "either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib."

Israel's family has declined comment. Henry Hockeimer Jr., a lawyer for Stefanowicz, has said his client did nothing wrong.

A third contractor implicated in the abuses, translator Adel Nakhla of Titan, has been fired. Nakhla's lawyer, Francis Q. Hoang, has not returned repeated messages.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported Saturday that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. military officer in Iraq, gave senior officials at Abu Ghraib flexibility to use military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns, sensory deprivation and diets of bread and water on detainees. Those techniques could be used without seeking permission of officials outside the prison, The Post said, citing newly obtained documents.

These options were not dropped until prison abuse scandal began in May, the newspaper said.

In September, Sanchez approved a broader list of 32 interrogation tactics, which included more severe methods. But after officials at U.S. Central Command raised objections, Sanchez removed several items and required his direct approval for others.

Among the tactics dropped were taking away prisoners' religious items, controlling their exposure to light and pretending to be from a country that deals severely with detainees, the Post said.

It is not clear if the harsher tactics were ever used. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said several investigations into the abuse are examining not only interrogation procedures, but how they were implemented, the Post said.