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17 Apr, 2024 17:02

US soldiers were pushed to torture Abu Ghraib prisoners – general

A contractor working for the Defense Department in Iraq faces civil actions from three former prisoners alleging depraved abuse
US soldiers were pushed to torture Abu Ghraib prisoners – general

An employee of CACI International Inc, a contractor with strong links to the Pentagon, pushed soldiers serving in Iraq to rough-up detainees at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, retired US Army General Antonio Taguba has testified, at a trial in which the company denies being involved in torture.

The Virginia-based consultancy is being sued by three former detainees of the infamous prison, near Baghdad, who allege they were tortured 20 years ago. The hearing began on Monday, after almost 16 years of procedural delays.

Taguba, who retired in 2007 after 35 years’ service, identified Steven Stefanowicz, aka ‘Big Steve,’ as the CACI employee who had instructed Army guards to “soften up” the inmates – and had even attempted to intimidate the general himself at one point.

“He would lean on the table staring me down. He did not answer questions directly,” Taguba told the court. “He was trying to intimidate me.”

Asked if he was in fact intimidated, the retired general responded, “Not on your life.”

A report by Taguba in 2004 said that Stefanowicz “clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse” and recommended he be fired, reprimanded and lose his security clearance. According to Associated Press, his testimony on Tuesday was the strongest evidence of CACI contractors playing a role in the Abu Ghraib abuses.

The retired general testified that his investigation focused on the military police (MP). Many MPs told investigators that they had not received clear instructions from the military, so Stefanowicz and other CACI contractors stepped into the vacuum. The court also heard that investigators were initially confused, because they thought the troops were saying “khaki” instead of the company’s name.

One of the three plaintiffs also testified on Tuesday. Speaking from Iraq and through an interpreter, Asaad Hamza Zubae said he had been kept naked, threatened with dogs, and forced to masturbate in front of prison guards.

Lawyers for CACI challenged that testimony, pointing to government reports showing that dogs had not yet been sent to Iraq at the time.

The contractor has filed over 20 motions to dismiss the case over the past 16 years. Its lawyers have argued that, as a contractor to the Department of Defense, CACI should be protected by the same sovereign immunity as the US government.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing the plaintiffs, has described the trial as “the first lawsuit where victims of US post-9/11 torture will get their day in court.”

The Abu Ghraib scandal first came to public attention in April 2004, when photos of abused prisoners and their smiling US guards were published. The abuses included stacking nude prisoners in pyramids or dragging them by leashes around their necks. Others were threatened by dogs or were hooded and attached to electrical wires.