Israeli link possible in US torture techniques

The head of the American defense contracting firm implicated in the torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison has close ties to Israel and visited an Israeli “anti-terror” training camp in the occupied West Bank earlier this year.

Jack London, chairman, president and CEO of CACI International Incorporated, traveled to Israel in January this year as part of a high-level delegation of US Congressmen, defense contractors and pro-Israel lobbyists, sponsored and paid for in part by the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, a pro-Israel lobbying and fundraising group, and Greenberg Traurig, LLP, a prominent Washington law and lobby firm.

The purpose of the visit, according to a CACI press release, was “to promote opportunities for strategic partnerships and joint ventures between US and Israeli defense and homeland security companies.”

As one of the highlights of the visit, London was presented with the Albert Einstein Technology Award by Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz at a gala dinner at Jerusalem city hall, for “achievements in the field of defense and national security.”

Delegates also spent several hours in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights with Housing and Construction Minister Effie Eitam, a former Israeli general, who is notorious for his view that Israel should “transfer” - that is, expel - all the Palestinians.

According to the official itinerary for the Jan. 11-17 Defense Aerospace Homeland Security Mission, obtained from the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, London’s trip included a visit to Beit Horon, “the central training camp for the anti-terrorist forces of the Israeli police and the border police,” in the occupied West Bank. The visitors were also “briefed by top experts,” and were able to “witness exercises related to anti-terror warfare.”

Two CACI employees, Steven Stephanowicz and John Israel, were named in the leaked report by US Major General Antonio M. Taguba on the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. Taguba wrote that Stephanowicz, a “contract US civilian interrogator,” “allowed and/or instructed MPs (military police), who were not trained in interrogation techniques, to facilitate interrogations by ‘setting conditions’ which were neither authorized or in accordance with applicable regulations/policy. He clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse.”

John Israel, an interpreter, did not have the appropriate security clearance, according to Taguba.

Although Taguba recommended that Stephanowicz be terminated and his security clearance revoked, a May 5 statement from CACI confirmed, “at present, all CACI employees continue to work on site providing the contracted for services to our clients in that location.” It added: “We have not received any information to stop any of our work, to terminate or suspend any of our employees.”

Although no evidence has emerged directly linking CACI’s involvement in the Abu Ghraib atrocities to Israel, it has long been known that the US military has been interested in “learning” from Israel’s experience attempting to suppress the Palestinian uprising. In March 2003, for example, the AP reported that the “the (US) military has been listening closely to Israeli experts and picking up tips from years of Israeli Army operations in Palestinian areas and Lebanese towns.”

This cooperation has included briefings of US personnel by Israeli officers, and, according to AP, “In January and February (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 counterterrorism.”

Meanwhile, more evidence has emerged undermining the US thesis that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were the work of a “few bad apples.” The Guardian reported that the “sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not an invention of maverick guards, but part of a system of ill-treatment and degradation used by special forces soldiers that is now being disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors.”

This system, known to insiders as “R2I,” short for resistance to interrogation, also includes such methods as “hooding, sleep deprivation, time disorientation and depriving prisoners not only of dignity, but of fundamental human needs, such as warmth, water and food.” These are all techniques long employed by Israel.

The visit of the US delegation that included the CACI head exposes a rarefied web of influence sharing in which US government officials and congressmen, defense contractors and lobbyists parcel out huge contracts, and siphon significant portions off to Israel.

As Batya Feldman of Israel’s Globes financial news service put it, the visit provided Israeli companies with “an excellent opportunity to encounter big bucks in homeland security.”

To help Israeli companies pry some of these “big bucks” loose, the visit included seminars for Israeli companies given by US pro-Israel lobbyists called “How to Approach the Homeland Security Department,” and “How to Sell to the US Defense Department.”

Israeli participants would have had a chance to test the helpful tips, since present on the trip were Assistant Secretary for Homeland SecurityRobert Liscouski and many leading US legislators, including top members of the US House and Senate Armed Services Committees, which jointly oversee tens of billions of dollars in military spending.

Ali Abunimah is a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada. This article first appeared in The Daily Star on 11 May 2004