What we didn't know, and what we now know, is that not only soldiers were involved in the alleged Iraq prison scandals. Some of the people were civilians contracted to do some of the dirty work. Their job, for which they were highly paid, was to get information out of Iraqi prisoners one way or the other. One way was when the higher-ups were looking and another way was when they weren't.

The reason the CIA was so happy to use the soldiers of fortune is that they don't have to play by the rules, and if they were caught orchestrating a pornographic prison tableau they could not be court-martialed or even given a letter of reprimand.

No one knows how many contractees are working for us in Iraq, but it's a very profitable business for contractors who supply the help. Not only do they do intelligence work, they also go on special operations. This causes some friction because the soldier in the Humvee is paid peanuts compared with the civilian riding next to him. While the GI in Iraq is fighting to make the world safe for democracy, the contractees are fighting for a raise.

I spoke to an ex-soldier of fortune who defended the companies that are hired to supplement the military's work. "We are serving a patriotic need and if we make a profit fighting for our country, that is what capitalism is all about."

"How did your company find you?"

"In the help-wanted ads. I saw one that said, 'Wanted: Ex-military types who still enjoy gathering intelligence. Must be thoroughly knowledgeable in methods of retrieving information from reluctant suspects. This includes use of lit cigarettes, freezing water and electrodes. Mercenaries must work long hours to break down prisoners but will be paid overtime. If suspect gives vital information, you will receive a bonus and a week's vacation at Guantanamo Bay."'

"I can see why you signed up," I said.

"The thing that really got me is that it was tax-free. I figured if I worked there for a year I could open a day-care center with my wife."

"And it paid off?"

"It sure did. I didn't spend a dime in Iraq because the CIA picked up the tab for everything, including my laundry."

"Since the news broke about the Abu Ghraib prison, do people give you a bad time?"

"On the contrary. I have been on all the TV shows. The audience wants to see a live soldier of fortune. I am also writing a book, 'Hitting the Soles of Their Feet.' "

"What other perks do you receive?"

"I can still go to the CIA Officers Club and get a loan from the agency's credit union."

"Do you get a pension from the company you worked for?"

"Yes. I get $1,000 for every month I served and also stock options, which have paid off, since my business is one of the largest growth industries in the world."

I said, "If it weren't for the photos from Abu Ghraib, we would never know about your work."

"We didn't take those pictures. They were very dark and grainy."

"Do you have any idea how much the civilian contract for Iraq is worth?"

"No, but we were told to get our intelligence no matter what the cost."

(c) 2004 Tribune Media Services