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Correction to This Article
Two Dec. 13 articles incorrectly identified Gen. Paul J. Kern as the commander of the Army Materiel Command. Kern relinquished that post in November.

Changes Behind the Barbed Wire

New Standards Are in Place for the Oversight of Contract Workers at Abu Ghraib Prison

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2004; Page E01

When a new contract interrogator arrives at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, military officials say, officers now conduct a preliminary interview to make sure the civilian has the proper credentials and experience. The newcomer watches an interrogation being conducted by an experienced soldier. And when the civilian starts conducting interrogations, the first few sessions are closely observed.

Military reports indicate that none of those steps was taken before the scandal at the prison broke in April with the discovery of vivid photographs showing prisoners being abused by U.S. military personnel.

Military officials say that care is now being taken to ensure that civilian workers at Abu Ghraib have proper credentials and that new contract workers are closely observed. (Ceerwan Aziz -- Reuters)

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Employees of two government contractors, CACI International Inc. of Arlington and Titan Corp. of San Diego, were implicated in some of the abuses, according to two reports produced by Army generals. Both companies faced a barrage of critical news reports and questions about how they handled their contracting responsibilities.

The allegations rocked CACI, sending shares of the company down 18 percent the month after the first report implicating one of its employees was leaked, although the stock has since recovered. Executives at the company said they received hate-filled e-mails and demonstrators picketed outside their headquarters.

But in the months since, the evidence that has been detailed so far in military reviews indicates that contractor employees played a more limited role in abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib than initially suggested. . A panel of generals, led by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, assigned blame for committing abuse or failing to report it to 42 military personnel and six civilian contractor employees.

In an interview last week, J.P. "Jack" London, CACI's chairman and chief executive, said the Army reports provide no substantiation that his company's employees were involved in the broadly condemned activities in "those photos."

"Any reading of it shows that the CACI people were not anywhere close to having conducted or participated in what I would call the most egregious things we saw in the photographs and were alleged to have happened -- like the death, the rape, sexual assault, naked piling-on, hooding and all that stuff," London said. "We don't see anything at all about civilian contractors that would take CACI anywhere close to any of those things. You've got some misbehavior, some things that we would probably say we're not necessarily proud of, but my God, they don't reach anywhere close to the level . . . of the egregious kinds of things that were said to have happened."

Titan has declined to comment on the Abu Ghraib allegations. "With the pending litigation on Abu Ghraib, I can't make any further comment on the issue," Titan spokesman Ralph "Wil" Williams said.

The military has been conducting trials of its personnel who are accused of wrongdoing. No criminal charges have been filed against the six civilians cited by the Fay panel, which in August referred those cases to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. The Justice Department would not comment except to say the matter is not closed.

"Our investigation has been going forward in a steady fashion," said Paul J. McNulty, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Several prosecutors are working on the case, he said. "We are continuing to try to get our hands on every bit of information so that we can try to sort out the facts."

Civilian contractors typically are hired by the military to design and maintain computer systems or provide janitorial and logistical services, not to question wartime prisoners. But senior officers say the military, with too few trained interrogators and translators, had little choice but to turn to the private sector for help.

"In order to do the things that are necessary in Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to have the option to use contractors," said Fay. "It is either use contractors or don't get the intelligence, and I don't believe that is an option because it means we lose lives."

The Fay report highlighted the need for the military to exercise greater oversight of contractor performance. Fay said the Army is making changes recommended by his panel to ensure that civilian interrogators and contractors have qualifications and training equal to that of their military counterparts.

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