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SCV Man Linked to Iraq Prison Abuse
Iraqi-American resident 'either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib,' Army report says.
By Leon Worden
Signal City Editor
Thursday, May 27, 2004
Canyon Country man is one of four people accused of being responsible for abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.
An Army report implicates John B. Israel, a 48-year-old civilian contractor hired by the Army as a translator, as "either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib."
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba's report on the abuse of prisoners the so-called "Taguba Report" also accuses Israel of lying to Army investigators about witnessing improper interrogations.
The report shows there was a breakdown in command authority and a blurring of the lines between interpreting and interrogating at the prison. It quotes military prison guards as saying both military intelligence officers and civilian contractors encouraged abuses, including stripping prisoners naked and handcuffing them in painful positions.
In his report, Taguba calls for a formal inquiry to determine the guilt of intelligence personnel at the prison. He writes:
"Specifically, I suspect that Col. Thomas M. Pappas, LTC Steve L. Jordan, Mr. Steven Stephanowicz, and Mr. John Israel were either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, and strongly recommend immediate disciplinary action ... as well as the initiation of (an) inquiry to determine the full extent of their culpability."
Pappas was the commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. Jordan is the former director of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center. Stephanowicz is a civilian interrogator working under contract.
Taguba recommended that a formal reprimand go into Israel's personnel file because he lacked the required security clearance and he wrongfully denied having seen interrogation processes that violated the Interrogation Rules of Engagement.
According to The New York Times, Israel told Army investigators in a brief written statement that 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."
According to the Taguba report, several witnesses said he did.
Israel is believed to have returned to the Santa Clarita Valley from Iraq about a month ago.
Contacted by The Signal at their home in a newer Canyon Country neighborhood, Israel's wife, Roza, acknowledged hearing about the allegations but refused to comment on them.
"I'm instructed not to say anything until we get an attorney," she said Wednesday. "I haven't even had an opportunity to discuss it with (John)."
Her husband is out of town until next week and has not yet hired an attorney, she said.
Born in Baghdad in 1955, Israel is described as an Iraqi-American Christian. His home was still decorated for Christmas on Wednesday. The Israels have lived in Santa Clarita with their three daughters for about 10 years and in their current house for a portion of that time.
A neighbor described them as loners who live modestly.
"They keep to themselves," said the neighbor, who asked not to be identified. "They're flat-out unfriendly."
"It's pretty scary living next door to somebody accused of that, with the state that the world is in," she said. "It's disturbing."
The New York Times said Israel traveled Monday to the Washington, D.C., offices of his employer, SOS Interpreting Ltd. His continued employment could not be verified Wednesday.
Based in New York, SOS is a 15-year-old company that, according to its online job posting for an Arabic linguist, specializes in translation, interpretation and foreign language training as well as "intelligence, counterintelligence, psychological operations, counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, peacekeeping and civil affairs, force protection, private security" and related information services. Its job listings call for applications from U.S. citizens.
SOS performed translating services for the Army Intelligence and Security Command at Abu Ghraib. On Monday the company issued a statement saying it "fully intends to cooperate with the Army and with Titan."
Titan Corp. is a San Diego-based defense firm that subcontracted the translation work to SOS. Titan President Gene Ray expressed his company's "distress and dismay over the horrific events at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq" in a May 7 statement.
"To clarify inaccuracies in a number of news media reports," his statement said, "Titan's role in Iraq is to serve as translators and interpreters for the U.S. Army. The company's contract is for linguists, not interrogators."
Only one of the 15 Titan and SOS translators working at Abu Ghraib last fall possessed the necessary security clearance, the Taguba reported indicated.
Titan has fired one interpreter, Adel L. Nakhla, of Gaithersburg, Md., whom Taguba named as a suspect.
Shareholders of Titan, a public company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, will vote June 7 on a planned takeover by Lockheed Martin Corp. The merger was delayed pending the outcome of an internal investigation into alleged payments by Titan or its subsidiaries to foreign officials.
On May 17, Titan announced it has won a four-year contract potentially worth $15 million to provide intelligence services to the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Systems Center in San Diego.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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