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CACI's Forgotten Role in Abu Ghraib (II)

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Before reading this post, please read part I, on the publicly available evidence of CACI interrogators' role in directing Charles Graner, Ivan Frederick, and other soldiers to abuse prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

It is not clear why the Department of Justice never prosecuted Steven Stefanowicz, Daniel Johnson, or any other CACI interrogator for their role in the torture at Abu Ghraib. The best clues are contained in a two-part file (1, 2) from the Army Criminal Investigative Division's (CID) investigation into the Abu Ghraib abuses, released to the ACLU after a Freedom of Information Act request. Unfortunately, virtually every proper name in the CID file is redacted -- including Charles Graner's, Ivan Frederick's, Stefanowicz's, Johnson's, and others whose identities are public knowledge. But if one is familiar with the facts and chronology of the case it is sometimes possible to infer whose name has been redacted on which page.

On Jan. 27, 2005, an Army CID investigator wrote to a Department of Justice (DOJ) oficial summarizing CID's findings about the civilians at Abu Ghraib. The following paragraph likely refers to Stefanowicz:

[redacted] probably the ring leader of all the civilians. We have significant information, including trial testimony, that he directed and participated in the abuse of detainees while at prison. We have several witnesses, including [redacted] [redacted] and [redacted] who can testify that he gave them orders to abuse deteainees [sic]. This included the use of military working dogs on various detainees.

The following likely refers to Johnson:

We have significant information , to include photographs and a co-conspirator [redacted], that [redacted] was abusing detainees. He forced detainees in stress positions and he and [redacted] used pressure points and simulated suffocation of a detainee by covering the nose and mouth so the detainee could not breath.

DOJ's initial reaction was skepticism. On Jan. 31, 2005, a civilian prosecutor wrote back to the CID investigator:

Your information does not seem to be the same evidence we have and we've been digging into this business in detail....Could you tell me how we can overcome the guidance on the use of dogs that apparently came over from GITMO with MG [name redacted; likely refers to Geoffrey Miller]. What is [redacted, probably "Steve"] the leader of - I know he held some type of supervisory position, but I have no evidence that he was the leader of some abuse program or whatever you are suggesting.

By March 5, 2005, though, prosecutors had decided to pursue charges against at least one civilian contractor. According to a CID agent's notes: "The AUSA's [U.S. Attorneys] are going to proceed with actions against [redacted]. After being briefed and seeing all information from others pertaining to him, along with his interview with [redacted], they felt he should be pursued."

Another page of the CID file refers to a grand jury being convened to hear evidence against a contract interrogator. The file states that on June 15, 2005, CID agents met with a U.S. attorney who "is seeking a federal indictment against one of the civilian subjects" of the Abu Ghraib investigation. The U.S. Attorney requested the military's help in locating a contract interpreter who "has been identified as a key witness and he will be subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury tentatively scheduled to begin on/about 18 Jul 05." The interpreter's name is redacted, as is the name of the subject(s) of the grand jury investigation.

In July 2005, CID investigators traveled to Fort Leavenworth to administer a polygraph examination to an inmate -- most likely Charles Graner -- in preparation for potential testimony about Abu Ghraib. The inmate's lawyer wrote to CID agents on July 12, 2005 that
"[Redacted] is VERY unhappy. He feels like he is cooperating and his conditions have not improved. He is still in max custody and is very unhappy about it. He is prepared to defy the order to cooperate, though I am trying to walk him back from that position."

On July 19, a CID agent arrived at Leavenworth to conduct the polygraph, but was rebuffed. According to notes in the CID file, the agent "met with [redacted] who said he was not taking any polygraphs. [Redacted] said he was not cooperating with SA [redacted] prosecution or the US Government anymore and didn't care what his grant of immunity ordered him to do."

Graner, unlike fellow Leavenworth inmate Ivan Frederick, did not testify at the courts martial for military dog handlers Michael Smith and Santos Cardona in 2006. But a number of other witnesses did testify about Stefanowicz's role in the dog handlers' abuse of prisoners.

After Smith and Cardona were convicted, FBI and Abu Ghraib CID investigators tried to arrange for them to be interviewed under grant of immunity. But the military officers who had the authority to grant immunity declined to do so, despite repeated requests. According to CID file notes from August 2006, "[a]n interview of both dog handlers had been deemed key and essential to the successful prosecution of [redacted] by the U.S. Attorney's office." Another note to the file from September 2006 states that investigators believed Smith and Cardona

would provide significant information regarding several of the civilian interrogators identified in in this investigation...both were supposed to be granted testimonial immunity and interviewed regarding others identified as subject. Upon completion of the both actions, the MDW SJA [Staff Judge Advocate for the Military District of Washington] decided not to immunize either soldier. Efforts are ongoing to obtaining the immunization; however, it is not believed this will occur.

On Sepr. 18, 2006, "an operational decision was made to discontinue efforts regarding the immunity and interview of the two dog handlers...It was believed the immunity would not by forthcoming in the near future."

The Military District of Washington is headquartered at Fort Lesley McNair in Washington, DC. Its commander at the time was Major General Guy C. Swann, and the Staff Judge Advocate was William Barto. Their reasons for denying the request to immunize Smith and Cardona are not explained in the CID file.

In August 2007, Time reported that Steven Stefanowicz and another private contractor might still face charges for Abu Ghraib, based on a source's statement that
"during a recent appearance before a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia he answered questions about the role at Abu Ghraib of Steven A. Stefanowicz... as well as of another civilian contractor."

But Stefanowicz was never indicted, nor was any other civilian implicated in the Abu Ghraib abuses. The case against CACI dismissed this June was the last remaining civil suit brought by torture victims for compensation. The evidence of CACI's role in the torture Abu Ghraib will never see the light of day unless the Fourth Circuit reverses the district court's decision, and allows the case to proceed to trial.