Can Obama Avoid Another Abu Ghraib?

When I directed Iraq for Sale, it became appallingly evident that private contractors like CACI and Titan played a critical role in the torture and abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. Much like Blackwater, KBR, and others, these war profiteers were never held accountable for their unconscionable crimes. Instead, they were rewarded with hundreds of millions in new contracts. The Obama administration has already taken some laudable steps to prevent another Abu Ghraib: ordering the CIA to end enhanced interrogation techniques and follow a more lawful code of conduct; and ordering the Justice Department to investigate the use of torture. However, the President’s recent objection to a provision in the 2010 defense funding bill that would make interrogation an “inherently governmental function” is a huge step backwards.


This provision, backed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), states “the interrogation of enemy prisoners of war, civilian internees, retained persons, other detainees, terrorists, and criminals when captured, transferred, confined, or detained during or in the aftermath of hostilities is an inherently governmental function and cannot be transferred to contractor personnel.” In other words, our government would no longer be able to hand off interrogation duties (and the lavish contracts that come with them) to mercenary firms out to profit from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s more, if interrogators are caught violating the law and abusing detainees, our government would have the power to hold those interrogators accountable.

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