Virginia’s CACI — long engaged in defense-related work — awoke to a press feeding frenzy one day in 2004. It — along with other companies who had contracted to help the Pentagon interrogate terrorist detainees in Iraq — was implicated suddenly and unfairly in what would become one of the biggest stories coming out of the Iraq occupation. How its chairman Jack London and his team reacted to it, dealing with facts and refuting the falsities literally saved the company, as well as its reputation.
The controversy exploded when the report of an Army investigation into possible abuse of detaineed — authored by Major General Antonio Taguba — was leaked illegally to the press. And — accompanying the leak of the Taguba report — leaked photos taken by soldiers stationed at Abu Ghraib showing prisoners in outrageous positions, were soon in newspapers around the world.
The Taguba Report was leaked to journalist Seymour Hersch at The New Yorker. In the report, Major General Antonia M. Taguba wrote that he “strongly suspected” that Stephanowicz was one of the four abusers at Abu Ghraib.
CACI did not know of the abuse or that they might be linked to it until they received a call from Hersch lambasting the practices he read in the illegally leaked report.
Which was all the press needed. CACI was immediately labeled as an abuser of prisoners, without any thought to the truth of the accusation. (A later internal investigation cleared Stephanowicz, and he has never been charged with any crime).
The main thrust of the Taguba report was that BG Janis Karpinski, the commander of the military police battalion that ran Abu Ghraib, didn’t supervise her command and failed in her responsibility. But the media chose to make the civilian contractors the villains.
It was a crisis for both the Defense Department and for CACI.
CACI chairman London reacted immediately. His story is set out in his new book, “Our Good Name: A Company’s Fight to Defend Its Honor and Get the Truth Told About Abu Ghraib”, he sets the record straight.
In an interview with HUMAN EVENTS, London affirmed that CACI was performing analysis and services support contract for intelligent services at Abu Ghraib during the time when the infamous prisoner abuse photos became public. The photographs, showing smiling American soldiers torturing Iraqi detainees, sparked an international debate over interrogation, torture and prisoners of war.
When American forces seized Baghdad, they inherited Abu Ghraib, and began filling it with terrorist suspects. They rapidly ran out of skilled interrogators, so they hired CACI and other firms to supply civilians to fill the gap. London said the Army was “not anticipating this kind of influx.”
London said his company employed individuals with “competent backgrounds and experience with interrogation activities” and their “work was performed in accordance with government guidance regulation” even though it was a fairly new practice for them.
This kind of civilian contracting work has, however, been utilized in the past (even “from the civil war” according to London) when the military required added civilian interrogators. London emphasized the competence, training and success of CACI employees in their work at Abu Ghraib.
“The bottom line is here we provided these people under the notion of having men in the intelligent community, having a competent interrogative team together and provide those to the US army that met the qualifications that they specified in our contract terms,” said London, reminding that, “We never had any accountability for managing anybody in the prison.”
When they got the Hersh call, London said it was “like a big bomb going off in our public relations office.” Within a couple of days, CBS published the story and the photographs on 60 Minutes II but initially CACI was trapped: how could it defend itself without access to the classified report?
“As a United States government contractor not in the practice of running around and grabbing secret documents from the U.S. government or pulling them out of our files and reading them not when we’re authorized to do so…” said London. “We were not going to break any law or any regulation regarding classified document…I’m not going to permit any of our people to start breaking or breaching those regulations and laws for that matter.”
When copies of the Taguba Report became widely available, London said they studied it closely and found several prominent errors that could easily negate its impact. Most notably, the report listed there were two employees of CACI — but one man they named — John Israel — was not nor ever had been a CACI employee. This gaping inaccuracy, ignored by the media, provoked skepticism in London.
“We didn’t find any other evidence or supporting documents or anything of factual nature in that report that supported his conclusions and allegations…it was kind of sweeping,” said London.
CACI took the controversy head on. By relying on a targeted, concise battle plan to counter inaccurate information, London’s team was able to rebuild their reputation solidly and overcome a near impossible adversity.
They first conducted in depth internal investigations and interviews and immediately contacted legal counsel. London said they “pulled it apart” and made public statements to condemn the abuse. They put out press releases declaring that, “if indeed any of our people have violated any laws in this regard, we will treat it in the appropriate way.”
CACI kept its focus on its customers — the Defense agencies — and stabilized itself to protect its greatest assets: its organization, operational viability, financial stability, reputation and credibility.
“We adopted th[e] concept of being responsible to the American people, the taxpayer, for work we did for the American people under contract, we were going to provide information when we had it and factual and valid, cooperate with the American government and investigating groups,” London said. “We’re going to stand up and work with the U.S. government, but at the same time, we’re not going to let this company be abused.”
Constantly publishing news releases, adding an FAQ section to their website, holding frequent conference calls and sending specific letters to journalists who made significant mistakes were other ways CACI dealt with the situation. London credits this persistence and open communication with shareholders, employees and customers with how they have sustained — “in fact, enhanced” — their reputation.
“We’re continued to be recognized as a very ethical and responsible organization,” London said.
London’s book is developed from investigative sources, reports, sworn testimony and court martial material. He attests that to this day there are no indications that validate the Taguba report’s accusations of the CACI employee and hopes the book will finally “set the record straight” for all. That it should accomplish.