Interior Department suspends contracts for Iraq interrogators
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Interior Department has blocked the Army from hiring new civilian interrogators in Iraq while it investigates whether a past contract was awarded properly, a department spokesman said Tuesday.
At least one civilian interrogator working under that contract has been accused of taking part in abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.
The Army hired interrogators from CACI International Inc. of Arlington, Va., starting last August through a "blanket purchase agreement" overseen by the Interior Department. That agreement was to provide information technology services, said Interior spokesman Frank Quimby.
Interior's Inspector General is investigating whether it was proper to hire interrogators under an information technology contract, Quimby told reporters in a conference call Tuesday.
The Army told Interior officials last week it was satisfied with CACI's performance of the contract, Quimby said.
But the Interior official responsible for the contract decided not to approve any more requests for interrogators under that contract "in the interest of prudence," Quimby said.
Uncertainty over who was responsible for oversight of the interrogation contracts added to the confusion surrounding the prison abuse case. In a report on the abuse, Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba quoted military prison guards as saying that military intelligence officers and contractors encouraged abuses, including stripping prisoners naked and handcuffing them in painful positions.
The Army turned over the management of some of its military intelligence contracts to the Interior Department in 2001. Although Interior is ultimately responsible for managing the contract, Army officials were responsible for day-to-day oversight, including investigation of violations by contract workers, Quimby said.
The Justice Department announced last week it has launched a criminal investigation of a private contractor in Iraq at the Pentagon's request. Quimby said he could not say if the target of that investigation worked for CACI.
Interpreters supplied by Titan Corp. also worked at Abu Ghraib under a separate contract with Army intelligence commanders. Taguba's report named one interpreter as a suspect and several others as witnesses to abuse.
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