Pulse’s response to CACI
by DAVID RUBENSTEIN
A few weeks ago I wrote a commentary for Pulse about former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber. It points out that Weber often gets treated with kid gloves by local media, that he’s become a high-powered Washington lobbyist, that he personally lobbied Karl Rove on behalf of PhRMA, the drug company trade group, and that Weber’s firm lobbied for a private defense and intelligence company called CACI (pronounced khaki).
I noted that CACI was singled out by Major General Antonio Taguba, who conducted an official army investigation of prisoner abuse at the now infamous U.S. detention center at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. I also said that Taguba named two CACI employees as having major responsibility for what happened there.
was reported in a May
2004 New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh, and I based what I said about
CACI on that article. Hersh quoted Taguba as saying that he suspected four men—two
of whom he (Taguba) said worked for CACI—“were either directly or
indirectly responsible for the abuse at Abu Ghraib.”
The Pulse commentary triggered a bombastic two-page single-spaced letter from
Dr. J.P. London, CACI president, CEO and board chairman. [View
a scanned copy in pdf format here]. The letter points out a factual error
that was made by General Taguba, picked up by the New Yorker, and then by me.
It’s not true that two of the men Taguba cited, John Israel and Steven
Stefanowicz, had worked for CACI. Only one did. In fact John Israel worked for
a subcontractor of a company called Titan.
The rest of London’s letter, a wholesale attack on my credibility and
a defense of his company and the political/lobbying system in which it operates,
is a house of cards.
He doctors a quote from a newspaper interview. He quotes selectively from a
Senate hearing. He constructs logical absurdities and lays them out as if they
were pronouncements from an oracle. Apparently he thinks because he is the CEO
of a $1.6-plus billion company that is willing to throw its weight around, he
can say whatever he wants. It’s a calculated strategy to shut down critics.
CACI has sued Air America for $11 million and threatened other critics with
legal action, and London personally sends out bullying letters of the sort reprinted
here to media large and small.
London uses the mistake by Taguba as a springboard to defend the corrupt political
system in which his company thrives, to suggest that everything Taguba’s
report said about CACI was discredited, that Taguba has since backpedaled, and
that the company has “literally been vindicated.” He should have
clarified John Israel’s employment at Titan and quit while he was ahead.
“IT’S GOING THE OTHER WAY”
operates in that emerging business sector where military power, information
management and hardware converge. Originally called California Analysis Center
Incorporated, the company has been around since 1962. CACI International Inc.
is now based in Arlington, Va., outside of Washington. It has strong ties to
the Republican Party, the defense establishment, including the National Security
Agency, and the military. It’s the classic revolving door, and London
personally is a reliable donor to the Republican Party.
“In 2001,” according to a report published by The British American
Security Information Council, “the private intelligence business exploded:
CACI’s revenue more than doubled and its stock price tripled.” According
to the report, CACI inherited its interrogation work through the acquisition
of another company, Premier Technology Group, in 2003. Interrogation “services”
were never a major part of CACI’s business.
What’s known about CACI in Abu Ghraib is that the company supplied many
of the interrogators who were employed there, both before and after the scandal
erupted and the now famous pictures became public, early in 2004. The extent
to which CACI or its employees was involved in or responsible for what occurred
at Abu Ghraib has not been determined. But to say the company has “literally
been vindicated,” as London does in his letter, is either deception or
Since the Taguba report, another document, the Fay Jones report, implicated
additional CACI employees, and the company was named as a defendant in a class
action lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights and private counsel.
Attorney Jennifer Green, of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is one of
the attorneys on the lawsuit. When asked to respond to London’s claim
that CACI has been vindicated since the Taguba report came out, she says, “I
think that’s wrong. I think it’s going the other way.
“Look at our third amended complaint,” Green says. “This is
after investigation. After we were getting more into the facts about what CACI
and Titan were doing in Iraq, in Abu Ghraib and the other facilities, we amended
in two additional CACI employees.”
I tried to reach Major General Taguba to ask him what he thought of London’s
claims, if he thinks his report was based on a misperception of events at Abu
Ghraib and, if so, how that happened. Public Affairs at the Pentagon routed
the request to U.S. Central Command in Tampa, which copied me in on an ensign’s
e-mail that said they were going to “loop this gentleman’s request
to Baghdad,” where it reached a chief petty officer at the Baghdad press
desk. He called the next afternoon and said he thought that the general might
be reachable through public affairs at the Pentagon. The loop was complete.
With Dr. London breathing down my neck, I thought it best to move on. But the
request is still in cyberspace, and it would be interesting to see what Taguba
has to say now about CACI and its ferocious attempt at damage control—even
though the investigation has now gone far beyond the Taguba report.
amended complaint in the Center for Constitutional Rights lawsuit lays out the
charges and the skeleton of the case. It includes a litany of first person accounts
of prison abuse, including many practices readers are likely to have heard of,
as well as a few that may strike a fresh note, like tying a group of men together
by the penis and then shoving one of them over.
The named plaintiffs are several Iraqi citizens, including one who alleges he
was imprisoned and tortured in Abu Ghraib under Saddam Hussein, released, left
the country, lived abroad, and then returned to “help rebuild Iraq,”
only to be detained and sent to Abu Ghraib for a second time. He says he was
“tortured and otherwise mistreated by the Defendants and their co-conspirators.”
The man is identified only as “SALEH, an individual residing in Sweden
and Dearborn, Michigan” and the case is now being referred to as the Saleh
case, although there are several other named plaintiffs as well as the larger
class of unnamed victims.
Commentators have suggested the lawyers will have to connect the alleged acts
to the named defendants, and that will be difficult. Specific acts committed
by CACI employees, according to statements in the Fay Jones report, include
handcuff tightening, imposition of “stress positions,” use of unmuzzled
dogs, hair-cutting, and forcing detainees to wear women’s underwear. There
is nothing in any public report that implicates CACI employees directly in some
of the most horrendous acts referenced in the Center’s complaint. Linking
specific acts with specific perpetrators is part of what the plaintiff law firms’
independent investigation is about.
But the charges are broad, and they touch on issues other than direct one-to-one
abuse. The lawsuit alleges, for example, that CACI changed its written policy
“somewhere between 2002 and 2003” so that employees, instead of
being told that illegal activities, if discovered, would be reported to the
government, were told the company could make such reports at its discretion.
The defendant companies are accused of either torture or conspiracy to torture
—or “in the alternative,” as the complaint says—negligence
for allowing it to go on under their contract. In the case of defendant CACI,
there is the specific charge that it failed to “to provide adequate training
on the law of war and the need to treat prisoners in accord with the Geneva
The complaint also says that CACI “failed to exercise due diligence in
That’s likely to become a contentious issue, with questions raised about
such matters as security clearances, previous histories, training, oversight
and screening. U.S. Army documents obtained by the New York Times say that most
of the interrogators had aliases, and one of the named defendants (a CACI employee
who was not named by General Taguba) was 6 feet tall, weighed 225 pounds and
was known as “Big Dog.”
CACI has responded publicly by saying it does not condone torture, that what
its employees have been accused of isn’t as bad as what we’ve seen
in the famous pictures or what has been reported in various sources. The company
wants desperately to change the narrative of this story, in the media as well
as in court, from “one bad company” to “a few bad apples,”
and it’s clear it will go to great lengths—possibly unprecedented
in recent U.S. journalism—to do that.
The lawsuit goes into that as well. CACI has “knowingly and intentionally
embarked upon a course of action designed to suppress any coverage or investigation
of their role in the conspiracy,” the complaint says. The company has
hired outside consultants to advise them on this strategy, and it has written
several letters to reporters threatening legal action if they don’t back
off, the complaint says.
A COUPLE OF STRETCHERS
try to prove that CACI has been vindicated, London includes two quotes, both
from statements made by Taguba after his report became public. One of them was
doctored. The other stops before a qualifying statement that undercuts his argument.
Quote one is from an interview in The Signal, a newspaper in Santa Clarita,
Calif. An editor there interviewed Taguba after the general, who is of Filipino
descent, spoke to some students in Asian and Latino studies at a local college.
The interview is off-the-cuff and much of what Taguba says is not clear, but
one thing is very clear. The Taguba statement that London quotes in his letter
refers to John Israel, the guy who in fact did not work for CACI.
John Israel, it turns out, lived in Santa Clarita. The interviewer was asking
Taguba about him, and John Israel is the person Taguba was talking about when
he answered. London quotes from that answer, but look carefully at how he does
it. The word “their” is in brackets, as if to say Taguba is referring
to the CACI employee, Steven Stefanowicz, as well as John Israel. But in the
actual interview posted on the newspaper’s web site, the word is “his,”
the singular pronoun. The reference is to John Israel, the Santa Clarita home
boy that the editor had just asked about. Normally when quoting, you put a word
in brackets to clarify. In this case, it was inserted to mislead.
London’s manipulation of the other quote is more subtle and touches on
what is likely to become the defense of CACI and its employees in further proceedings.
Taguba did indeed say in hearings before a Senate Committee, that contract personnel
were “not in any way supervising any soldiers.”
London leaves out Taguba’s next sentence: “However, the guards,
those who were involved, looked at them as competent authority as in the manner
by which they described them, as the MI [military intelligence] or by name or
Not a model of clarity, but it suggests something that may be crucial in determining
whether CACI ends up “vindicated” or not. Contract workers may have
been perceived to have authority they did not have, or were not supposed to
Small matter? Maybe not. Testimony in the Fay Jones report suggests how that
dynamic might have played out: “One CACI employee, cited for alcohol use,
when confronted by his ‘inadequate’ interrogation techniques is
said to have replied, ‘I have been doing this for 20 years and I do not
need a 20-year-old telling me how to do my job.’”
CACI is a big-time organization, and its professionals were making a lot more
money than the people they were working with. For whatever reason, it appears
there was a lot confusion about lines of command and authority, and therefore
the testimony that London left out—far from being the backpedaling of
a confused old general—may allude to something significant.
“Several people indicated in their statements that contractor personnel
were ‘supervising’ government personnel or vice versa,” says
the Fay Jones report. “Sgt. Adams indicated that CACI employees were in
positions of authority, and appeared to be supervising government personnel.”
Minnesota State Senator Becky Lourey, whose helicopter pilot son was killed
in Iraq, was quoted recently in the Star Tribune about something that might
bear on what was going on at Abu Ghraib. “When you go to [soldiers’]
funerals,” she said, “the officers come up to you and say, ‘Please
stop privatizing the army. It’s so difficult for us to serve next to someone
who’s making three to four times as much money as we are, who can leave
whenever they want, who has better armor than we have, plus we have to protect
them. It’s very demoralizing.”
GETTING OUT THE MESSAGE
London says: “CACI has never attempted to influence or obstruct any legislation
or regulation and your insinuation is reprehensible. Clark and Weinstock assisted
CACI in developing an approach to get our message and the facts about our work
to key lawmakers.”
is an example of what’s sometimes called a distinction without a difference:
We don’t attempt to influence legislation. We attempt to influence legislators.
CACI paid Clark and Weinstock
$220,000 in 2004, according the Center for Public Integrity’s LobbyWatch
database. Information from required lobbying reports indicates that the lobbyists
addressed “strategic planning and outreach for ongoing defense issues”
and “General Services Administration [GSA] contract and policy issues.”
In 2004, after the scandal at Abu Ghraib broke, the General Services Administration
raised some questions about the contract under which CACI was providing its
interrogation services. There was a suggestion that CACI might be barred from
further contracts. That’s called debarment, and it’s a big deal;
it’s the briar patch, for a company like CACI. The issue was resolved,
although the GSA official said he wanted “further information” from
In September of 2005, the company announced it was getting its contract workers
out of Iraq. The Center for Constitutional Rights in a press release claimed
some credit for that.
The lawsuit is still at the stage where they are arguing about where the case
should be heard—the Eastern District of Virginia or Washington, D.C.
“WHAT'S THIS SUPPOSED TO MEAN?”
commentary, discussing Vin Weber’s lobbying business, I wrote: “You
could say that CACI, with its Iraq-war connection, is more than just a business
London’s letter strikes a personal note: “What is this supposed
Here’s some clarification. It’s a reference to the fact that, within
limits such as those imposed by conflicts of interest or specialties, lobbyists
typically carry the freight for whomever will write them a check. In other words,
normally it is just a business. Among the clients of Clark and Weinstock (where
Weber is the managing partner of the Washington office) are some clients whose
politics don’t line up with Weber’s —the Service Employees
International Union, for example.
I say their politics don’t line up because Weber is on the board of a
union-bashing right-wing think tank called the Center of the America Experiment
here in Minnesota, and I have quite a vivid memory of Vin Weber talking up Reaganomics
back in the 1980s. According to AFL-CIO Minnesota, his overall “score”
on labor issues was 12 percent pro-union when he was in Congress. He’s
anti-union. It’s helped him immensely in his career.
In contrast, his politics line up very well with CACI’s. CACI lives off
war and conflict. As the commentary in Pulse noted, Weber promoted war and conflict
too, at a critical time. He advocated the United States thumb its nose at the
United Nations, and he was pushing for an Iraq invasion even before George Bush
was appointed president (see letter at The
Project for the New American Century).
Like Weber and the neocons whom Weber has allied himself with, CACI subscribes
to the administration’s delusions about the war, or says it does. The
military mission in Iraq, it declares in a press release, is to “establish
a free Iraq and eliminate terrorism”—using the usual charlatan’s
dumb-down word for militant Islam.
The war in Iraq hasn’t eliminated “terrorism.” It has triggered
a civil war in Iraq, destabilized much of the Middle East, and given militant
Islam pretty much everything it could have wanted, strengthening its hand everywhere
in the Middle East, including Iraq, Egypt and Palestine. Everything the Iraq
war-pushers said was going to happen didn’t happen. Everything their critics
said was going to happen is happening. They said Iraqi oil would pay for the
reconstruction. It’s costing billions, and there is no end in sight. They
said Iraq would become a democracy, and offered up a vision of Rotary Clubs
and shopping malls. Instead it’s become a country of armed “confessional
groups” (a foreign policy wonk’s term for the politicized religious
groupings that are always a latent factor in Middle East politics), and a magnet
and recruiting ground for terrorists. People who had the ear of George Bush
apparently didn’t know any more about confessional groups than the average
clerk in a shoe store—no insult intended to the clerks.
They said it would solve the Palestine problem, as well. Instead it as been
a gift to Islamists in Palestine and put the militant Islamist group Hamas on
the political map, big-time. The attacks of 9-11 were a setup for the biggest
draw play in history —Iraq—and we fell for it. Islamists are also
gaining in Europe, and probably in nuclear-armed Pakistan, as well. In Iran
they’ve rolled back the liberals and raised up a nut case, and in Iraq
they are likely to end up the winners, although not before they back off long
enough to let the United States make a face-saving exit. Long-term, the war
is creating a virtually inexhaustible supply of ill-will among young Muslims—a
virtual and borderless Ho Chi Minh Trail that no amount of smart bombs and “knowledge
management” can cut off. Bush confronted the most serious project in humanity’s
lifetime with the mentality of a wannabe barroom cowboy. He threw gasoline on
the fire, and it’s a tossup if those who succeed him will be able to put
it out. He didn’t do it himself, of course. The subjects of this essay
were part of the juggernaut.
In a way there is an even more fundamental issue than torture, if that’s
possible. More fundamental because it concerns the politics out of which both
torture and the horrors of “clean” war arise. It’s the issue
of policy control, who navigates the ship, and, in this case, how much influence
people who make money off war have on the decision to wage it and avoid doing
what could be done to prevent it. This is where people like London and Weber
fit in, even if CACI proves to be “vindicated” of crimes against
humanity in Abu Ghraib.
Best end on an uplifting note. My favorite Republican and retired general, Dwight
D. Eisenhower, was no William Blake. But in his presidential farewell address,
he hit it on the head:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition
of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial
complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and
That’s it in a nutshell: “Unwarranted influence,” and these
guys are it. ||
David Rubenstein is prize-winning twin cities journalist, frequent contributor to Pulse, and occasional contributor to The Nation and to Minnesota Law & Politics. His articles and commentaries have also appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press, New York Times and other regional and national publications.