Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Join The Dots - Lockheed, Detainee Abuse and John McCain

On a day when every media outlet was talking about Interro-Gate, as Hill Republican leaders and the CIA calling for an investigation over leaks alleging secret CIA prisons existed in Eastern European nations, a related and perhaps just as important story went largely un-noticed.

In his article "Meet the New Interrogators: Lockheed Martin", Pratap Chatterjee sets out how Lockheed took over a company called Sytex for $462 million back in February and thus positioned itself as the premier provider of contractors for interrogation work to the U.S. military.

In June alone, Sytex advertised for 11 new interrogators for Iraq, and in July the company sought 23 interrogators for Afghanistan. It has also been seeking experienced report writers and program managers who have worked in military interrogations in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, former Yugoslavia, or the Persian Gulf War.

Ads on several websites frequented by current and former military personnel offered a $70,000 to $90,000 salary, a $2,000 sign-up bonus, $1,000 for a mid-tour break, and a $2,000 bonus for completing the normal six month deployment. Those returning for a second tour get double bonuses at the beginning and end of their stints. In return, the employees are expected to work as necessary—up to 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. (The companies, however, get to bill the military up to $200 an hour for this work, according to Cherif Bassiouni, the former United Nations Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan.)

“Sytex is one of our best customers,” says Bill Golden, a former military intelligence analyst with 20 years Army experience, who now runs, one of the biggest intelligence employment websites in the business. “They are the main company hiring 97E workers today.”

97E is the official classification number for the interrogator course taught at military colleges including Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Sytex interrogators work side-by-side with military interrogators conducting question-and-answer sessions at United States-run military jails across the world holding detainees suspected of involvement in terrorism. In 2004, before the Lockheed takeover, Sytex revenues were $425 million - brought in by providing civilian contractors for “personnel and technology solutions to government customers including the Pentagon’s Northern Command, the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, and the Department of Homeland Security.”

However, there have been several complaints that these civilian interrogators are not always well trained. In July 2004, a report for the Army Inspector General found that:

of the four contract interrogators employed by Sytex in Bagram, Afghanistan, only two had received military interrogation training, and the other two, who were former police officers, had not.

Other companies subcontracting for Sytex have also been involved in controversy, with one contractor being accused of involvement in the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal that broke in May 2004. The interrogator involved, it emerged, "had received no formal training in military interrogation, which involves instruction in the Geneva Conventions on human rights."

Outsourced contractors are in a grey area when it comes to the rules, raising questions of accountability and of enforcement of regulations designed for the military. They wouldn't fall within the remit of the USCMJ, for instance. Deborah Pearlstein, director of the U.S. Law and Security Program at Human Rights First, says:

“Based on the Pentagon’s own investigations and other reports that are already public, it seems clear that contractors are less well trained, less well controlled, and harder to hold accountable for things that go wrong than are regular troops...“unless and until contract interrogators can be brought at the very least up to the standards of training and discipline expected of our uniformed soldiers, the United States may well be better off without their services.”

Of course, Republican Senator John McCain has been much in the news recently, proposing a ban on the use of torture during interrogations.His proposed amendment would "prohibit cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of persons in the detention of the US government," according to the text of the measure.

"I hope that we can reach some kind of conclusion that would prevent us from ever doing that (using torture), and I don't have to tell you or anybody who's watching, our image in the world is suffering very badly, and one of the reasons for it is the perception that we abuse people that we take captive," McCain said.

Which makes it odd indeed that the McCain 2006 campaign shows as one of its top contributors...Lockheed Martin. The company have never before figured as a prominent McCain backer but for the 2006 campaign they show as his 12th largest single donor, having already contributed $13,250.

We can only hope that Senator McCain is not aware of this conflict of interest, where a company who has a subsiduary which has been implicated in previous abuse and over whom questions hang is a major contributor to a politician who has made so much political capital from his implacable opposition to torture and abuse. Perhaps he will return their contribution, and so avoid that conflict.

The Senator must also be aware that, if the administration were absolutely intent on torturing suspects (and they certainly seem to be), then his proposal would have the effect of driving more business towards private contractors - who will always be less open to public, military and Congressional scrutiny. Lockheed would get the lion's share of any new business.

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