MP's Lawyer: Translator Gave Orders
• Guards at Abu Ghraib followed instructions from intelligence experts including interpreter from Canyon Country, attorney claims.

By Leon Worden
Signal City Editor

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

ttorneys for guards charged with abuse at Abu Ghraib prison last fall would like to talk to Canyon Country resident John B. Israel.
    They tried in April, but he had left Iraq.
    "It is very frustrating," said Paul Bergrin, the stateside attorney for Sgt. Javal "Sean" Davis of Roselle, N.J.
Javal Davis
An attorney for Sgt. Javal "Sean" Davis, seen here in his 1994 Abraham Clark High School yearbook, said he will seek testimony from John B. Israel at Davis' court martial on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
    Davis, 26, is one of seven Army reserve guards to face criminal charges for their roles at Abu Ghraib. Several, including Davis, are pointing fingers at superiors, claiming they were instructed or encouraged by military and civilian intelligence personnel to "soften up" prisoners for questioning.
    Davis and two other guards believe Israel, a civilian translator under contract with Army intelligence, was one of them, Bergrin said.
    "He (Israel) is one of the intelligence individuals identified by three of the accused," Bergrin told The Signal on Tuesday. "He fits the characteristics and physical profile of one of the individuals ... who came in and gave the orders to 'soften them up' for the interrogations."
    While Bergrin wouldn't identify the other accusers, Israel is one of four people implicated in an Army report as having been "directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses" and of making false statements about interrogations he witnessed.
    No charges are known to have been filed against Israel. His attorney, Christopher Darden, told The Signal on Saturday that he is making no statements.
    Arriving at Abu Ghraib on Oct. 14, two days after a Military Intelligence brigade took operational control there, Israel was part of the buildup of intelligence personnel who were needed to question swelling ranks of prisoners as Iraqi insurgents stepped up their attacks on U.S. ground forces.
    Israel would have been assigned to a three-member interrogation team, known as a "tiger team," that included one interrogator, one translator and one U.S. government agent, Bergrin said.
    He said Davis' defense team wanted Israel and two other civilian contractors to testify at his client's Article 32 (pretrial) hearing in Baghdad on April 9, but Israel was nowhere to be found.
    "They were asked (to appear), but they were taken immediately (out of Iraq)," Bergrin said. "The exact responses of the (Army) investigators were that they were 'unavailable, whereabouts unknown.'"
    A Canyon Country neighbor said Israel returned home the first week of April.
    Bergrin said no civilian interrogators or translators testified at three Article 32 hearings held in April — those of Davis, Spec. Charles A. Graner, and Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II. Only one Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) officer appeared and gave second-hand testimony based on interviews he conducted.
    "My client remembers the Titan and CACI (contractors) and OGA, whether they were FBI or CIA," Bergrin said.
    OGA is shorthand for "other government agencies," and the prison guards assumed they were "CIA or FBI or some other intelligence (agency)," Bergrin said. "It was impossible to identify them."
    Titan Corp. and CACI International Inc. are two intelligence firms that provided interrogators and translators to the prison under umbrella contracts with the Interior Department.
    "You can see, if these individuals are not being made available" to testify at the Article 32 hearings, "there has got to be a cover-up somewhere," Bergrin said.
    "There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever, based upon the partial investigation that has been done in this case, that these young soldiers were acting based upon orders of intelligence agents whose sole purpose and function was to get as much information as possible from the detainees, at any cost and by whatever means available," he said.
    Frederick's attorney, Gary Myers, concurred that no civilian contractors appeared at his client's Article 32 hearing. He said he will request a new hearing — in the United States.
    "We intend to seek a new Article 32 hearing (that is more like) what it's supposed to be, which is mainly fact-finding," Myers told The Signal.
    Bergrin said he will request Israel's presence at Davis' court martial, which hasn't been scheduled.
    "We're going to request that these individuals be made available to testify," he said, referring to Israel as well as Steve Stephanowicz, a CACI interrogator, and Adel L. Nakhla, a Titan translator.
    Darden and an associate didn't return phone messages Tuesday asking whether Israel will cooperate with Bergrin's request to appear.
    Bergrin acknowledged the difficulty in linking a name with a face — because interrogators and translators didn't use their real names in front of prison guards.
    "(You must) understand that military intelligence personnel would not be identified," he said. "They never used their real names at all. A lot (called themselves things like) 'Special Agent James Bond'," he said.
    But Israel "fits the physical description of one of the agents of what went on there," and "there were numerous photographs with military intelligence (personnel)," Bergrin said.
    "He (Israel) has been proven, based upon independent examination of numerous military police officers, to be an integral part of the intelligence-gathering community and a catalyst behind the interrogation techniques that were used at the Abu Ghraib prison, including but not limited to placing a hood on the heads of detainees, nudity, sexual humiliation and embarrassment, and the threat of sexual exploitation," Bergrin said.
    No photographs of prison abuse that have been released to the media are known to depict Israel.
    About three dozen government investigations of prisoner abuse in Iraq are believed to be under way, but it is unclear whether Israel is a target of any of them.
    On May 5, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the Justice Department will "take action where appropriate" against civilian contractors and said May 21 that they were being investigated.
    CACI President J.P. "Jack" London said in an investor conference call Thursday that his company is the subject of five government investigations, including an Army inquiry into intelligence management practices at Abu Ghraib and other prisons. However, a Titan executive told The Signal on Tuesday that he knows of no investigation of his company's contract personnel.
    "To my knowledge, there are no investigations against Titan whatsoever," said Ralph Williams, Titan's vice president of corporate communications.
    Titan fired one of its former Abu Ghraib translators, Nakhla, last month.
    Asked about a discrepancy in an Army report that lists Israel as an employee of both Titan and CACI, Williams said the report "misidentifies some people."
    Israel actually works for SOS Interpreting Ltd., a subcontractor to Titan. No relationship has been verified between Israel and CACI.
    Little is known of Israel's background prior to his deployment at Abu Ghraib. His wife told The Signal that the family has lived in Santa Clarita since 1988. Public records indicate he filed for bankruptcy protection in 1993, and that he either paid $220,000 in cash for his house in 1996 or was given it by the builder. Darden didn't return messages asking for a clarification.

    Signal staff writer Matt Levin contributed to this story.