Skip to comments.U.S. Civilian Working at Abu Ghraib Disputes Army's Version of His Role in Abuses
Posted on 05/25/2004 9:19:07 PM PDT by conservative in nyc
ASHINGTON, May 25 John B. Israel, an Iraqi-American Christian and one of two civilian contractors implicated in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, returned home to California a few weeks ago and, until Monday, was living quietly with his wife, Rosa.
In an interview on Monday at their home in Santa Clarita, Calif., Ms. Israel said that her husband had not even hired a lawyer.
Mr. Israel, who was born in Baghdad in 1955, was one of three Iraqi-Americans working as translators at Abu Ghraib. The Army report on the abuses described him as "either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib."
On Monday, his employer, SOS Interpreting, with offices in New York and suburban Washington, called Mr. Israel here for talks. That same evening, SOS issued its first statement about Mr. Israel, saying simply that the company, a subcontractor for the Titan Corporation for the work in Iraq, "fully intends to cooperate with the Army and with Titan" in the investigations. SOS said it would have nothing more to say.
Almost nothing was known about Mr. Israel before now. Among a raft of documents from the Army investigation, obtained by The New York Times, is a brief statement by Mr. Israel in which he denies any knowledge of the abuses. In it he says he arrived in Iraq on Oct. 14 and served as a translator for military intelligence. Asked if he had "witnessed any acts of abuse," he wrote: "No I have not."
Ms. Israel said her husband was "just a translator" and knew nothing of the Abu Ghraib abuses. She said a fellow employee had given his name to investigators. She would not say when he expected to return home, and he could not be reached for comment.
The Army report said that Mr. Israel's statement of ignorance ran contrary to the testimony of several witnesses. It also said he did not have a security clearance, and recommended that he be disciplined.
But if the failure to hold a secret or top-secret security clearance is a prosecutable offense, almost every translator working in Abu Ghraib would be found guilty. The Army records show that, of 15 Titan or SOS translators working at Abu Ghraib prison last fall, only one held a security clearance. Nearly all of them are foreign-born American citizens, and most come from backgrounds that have nothing to do with the sort of government work that would require a security clearance.
Khalid Oman, for example, was a hotel manager in Kalamazoo, Mich., before leaving for Iraq last fall to work as a translator for Titan, said his roommate, Sam Alsaud, in an interview, adding that Mr. Oman had never worked as a translator before answering a Titan advertisement. Mr. Oman is still in Iraq. "I guess he was looking for adventure," Mr. Alsaud added. "But he's upset. Things haven't turned out like he expected."
Mr. Oman, 29, was born in the United States while his father, a Saudi, was here attending college. Now he is working at Abu Ghraib. He was not implicated in the scandal.
The one translator who reported on his Army form that he held a "secret" clearance, Bakeer Naseef, a Jordanian-American, worked as a security guard for a private company before taking the job in Iraq, said his daughter, Siham. That job at the reception desk of a technology company in Austin, Tex. did not appear to require a clearance, and she did not know where he might have obtained one. She said he had not worked as a translator before. He, too, is still in Iraq.
The CACI Corporation employed all of the contract interrogators at Abu Ghraib, including Stephen Stefanowicz, who is the other contractor implicated in the scandal. The Army records show that each CACI employee held a secret or top-secret clearance (though two of them did not answer that question). Eleven of the 29 employees served in the military previously; others held a range of jobs with contractors, and other private companies even police forces that would have required a clearance.
Kenneth Powell, whose job is to screen prisoners at Abu Ghraib, according to the documents, recently retired after 24 years with the Mobile, Ala., police force, where presumably he picked up the skills, and the security clearance, to screen Iraqi prisoners. Like all the relatives interviewed, his wife, Jackie, said she had not known where in Iraq he was serving.
Education among all the contract employees varied. Most had some college education; 18 of the 44 had a four-year degree, or more; seven had only a high school diploma. Six of those were CACI employees.
The forms asked the workers if they used aliases, and several offered fearsome ones. Kevin Bloodworth, an Air Force veteran from Great Fall, Mont., who is serving as an interrogator, said he was known as Blood. And Timothy Duggan, an interrogator from Pataskala, Ohio, who said he was 6 feet tall and weighed 225 pounds, offered his alias, Big Dog.
John M. Broder reported from Canyon County, Calif., for this article.
I don't think the educational background of the civilian contractors is terribly relevant, especially for a translator -- as long as they can speak Arabic and English proficiently.