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Follow torture trail at Abu Ghraib

The re-writing of Iraqi history is now going on at supersonic speed

By Robert Fisk

05/26/04 " Independent" -- I can't wait to see Abu Ghraib prison reduced to rubble by the Americans -- at the request of the new Iraqi government, of course. It will be turned to dust in order to destroy a symbol of Saddam Hussein's brutality. That's what President Bush tells us. So the rewriting of history still goes on.

Last August, I was invited to Abu Ghraib -- by my favorite U.S. Gen. Janis Karpinski, no less -- to see the million-dollar U.S. refurbishment of this vile place. Squeaky clean cells and toothpaste tubes and fresh pairs of pants for the "terrorist" inmates. But now, suddenly, the whole kit and caboodle is no longer an American torture center. It's still an Iraqi torture center and thus worthy of demolition.

The rewriting of Iraqi history is now going on at supersonic speed. 

Weapons of mass destruction? Forget it. Links between Saddam and al-Qaida? Forget it. Liberating the Iraqis from Saddam's Abu Ghraib life of torture? Forget it. Wedding party slaughtered? Forget it. Clear the decks for both "full (sic) sovereignty" and "chaotic events." This is, at any rate, according to Bush. When I heard his hesitant pronunciation of Abu Ghraib as "Abu Grub" on Monday night, I could only profoundly agree.

But we're in danger again of missing the detail. Just as the unsupervised armed mercenaries being killed in Iraq are being described by the occupation authorities as "contractors" or, more mendaciously, "civilians" -- so the responsibility for the porno interrogations at Abu Ghraib is being allowed to slide into the summer mists over the Tigris River.

So let's go back, for a moment, to the long weeks in which the Department of Bad Apples allowed its jerks to put leashes around Iraqi necks, forced prisoners to have sex with each other and raped some Iraqi lasses in the jail.

And let's cast our eyes upon that little, all-important matter of responsibility. The actual interrogators accused of encouraging U.S. troops to abuse Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail were working for at least one company with extensive military and commercial contacts with Israel. The head of an American company whose personnel are implicated in the Iraqi tortures, it now turns out, attended an "anti-terror" training camp in Israel and, earlier this year, was presented with an award by Shaul Mofaz, the right-wing Israeli defense minister.

According to J.P. London's company, CACI International, the visit of London -- sponsored by an Israeli lobby group and including U.S. congressmen and other defense contractors -- was "to promote opportunities for strategic partnerships and joint ventures between U.S. and Israeli defense and homeland security agencies."

The Pentagon and the occupation powers in Iraq insist that only U.S. citizens have been allowed to question prisoners in Abu Ghraib but this takes no account of Americans who may also hold double citizenship. The once secret torture report by U.S. Gen. Antonio Taguba refers to "third country nationals" involved in the mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq.

Taguba mentions Steven Staphanovic and John Israel as involved in the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Staphanovic, who worked for CACI -- known to the U.S. military as "Khaki" -- was said by Taguba to have "allowed and/or instructed MPs (military police), who were not trained in interrogation techniques, to facilitate interrogations by 'setting conditions' ... he clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse." One of Staphanovic's co-workers, Joe Ryan -- who was not named in the Taguba report -- now says he underwent an "Israeli interrogation course" before going to Iraq.

We know the Pentagon asked Israel for its "rules of engagement" in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Israeli officers have briefed their U.S. opposite numbers and, according to The Associated Press, "in January and February of 2003, Israeli and American troops trained together in southern Israel's Negev desert ... Israel has also hosted senior law enforcement officials from the United States for a seminar on counter-terrorism."

Staphanovic of CACI, who may also be Australian, was accused by Taguba's army report of making "a false statement to the investigation team regarding ... his knowledge of abuses." Another outside interrogator, Adel Nakhla, who may be of Egyptian origin, was a witness to the "stacking" of naked prisoners in Abu Ghraib. John Israel "misled" investigators by denying he had witnessed misconduct and did not have "security clearance."

Israel, according to Titan -- two of whose employees were mentioned in Taguba's report -- works for one of the company's "sub-contractors." Titan refused to name the "sub-contractor."

Why? Among the company's former directors is ex-CIA director James Woolsey, one of the architects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a friend of Ahmed Chalabi and a prominent pro-Israeli lobbyist in Washington. London says CACI "does not condone or tolerate or endorse in any fashion any illegal, inappropriate behavior on the part of its employees in any circumstances at any time anywhere."

But it is clear the torture trail at Abu Ghraib has to run much further than a group of brutal U.S. military cops, all of whom claim "intelligence officers" told them to "soften up" their prisoners for questioning. Were they Israeli? Or South African? Or British? Are we going to let the story go?

Robert Fisk writes for The Independent in Great Britain.

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