Lawyer for a U.S. soldier accused of abuse alleges contractors are used to question inmates there.

A U.S.-run prison in Iraq, where American troops are under investigation in connection with abuse of Iraqi prisoners, used private contractors to interrogate detainees, the attorney for an accused soldier has charged.

The private contractors from American companies have been used to question prisoners as part of aggressive intelligence-gathering efforts at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, where U.S.-led forces have held hundreds of captives during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the attorney said.

In March, military officials charged six members of the 800th Military Police Brigade with offenses including assault, cruelty and dereliction of duty in connection with the abuse of about 20 prisoners. The misconduct at Abu Ghraib was underscored this week by photographs aired on U.S. television showing the mistreatment, which involved physical abuse and sexual intimidation.

Among those charged was Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick, 37, of Virginia, an Army Reserve officer. Frederick and his relatives have spoken with news organizations. Relatives provided Associated Press with personal writings that backed his account that he and others were given little instruction or guidance by the U.S. military in how to treat prisoners.

Gary Myers, Frederick's Washington-based attorney, said Thursday that it was clear that the military contracted with private firms to interrogate prisoners, raising questions of oversight of the prison and treatment of prisoners.

"It's one of the most disturbing elements of this," Myers said in an interview. "It's a question of what kind of guidance [Frederick] was getting and what kind of training he was receiving."

Myers said two U.S. firms -- CACI International of Arlington, Va., and Titan Corp. of San Diego -- were involved in providing private interrogators and interpreters at Abu Ghraib.

Both firms were named in a military investigative report looking into the allegations. According to the report, a CACI employee was terminated from duty at the prison because of the infractions.

Myers said it was difficult to know what percentage of the prison's staff consisted of private contractors, but he said those figures and other elements of the operations would be disclosed during a trial.

Pentagon officials late Thursday did not deny that private contractors were being used as interrogators, but referred questions to U.S. military officials in Baghdad, who said they could not comment on Myers' account.

A spokeswoman for CACI could not be reached for comment late Thursday. Gene Ray, chief executive officer of Titan, said his company provided translation services to the U.S. military in Iraq, but said the work did not involve the Abu Ghraib prison.

"We employ translators," Ray said. "Translators are not inclined to be involved in prisons one way or the other."

On Wednesday, the photographs showing abuses at Abu Ghraib were aired on CBS' "60 Minutes II." The six members of the 800th Military Police Brigade, based in Uniondale, N.Y., face court-martial. In addition to those criminal charges, seven officers in the brigade's chain of command face an administrative investigation, including Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the military's top prison official in Iraq.

However, it is unclear whether any law or legal proceeding applies to private contractors. There are an estimated 20,000 private security guards in Iraq, a growing force that has prompted concern among some U.S. officials.

In Congress, five Democratic senators asked Thursday for an inquiry into the use and activities of private military contractors.

The senators told the congressional General Accounting Office that the private security firms are unregulated by the federal government. Those signing the letter were Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin.

[Source: Los Angeles Times, Usa, 30Apr04]

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