crawling with bugs, traces of rats and dirt. Rancid meats
and spoiled food resulting in diarrhea and food poisoning.
This is what
detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were
regularly given to eat by a private contractor in late 2003
and early 2004, causing anger to swell to a furious boil
between the U.S. military guards and the prisoners.
Foul as the food
was, there never was enough to go around. The private contractor, run by
an American civilian who was subsequently killed, routinely
fell short by hundreds of meals for Abu Ghraib's surging
prison population. When the food did arrive, there were
often late and frequently contaminated.
So went another sad
chapter in the story of the Abu Ghraib prison, where U.S.
military personnel and private contractors would make
headlines and ignite international outrage over allegations
of torture psychological abuse in May of this year.
photographs now infamous for portraying naked, hooded
prisoners and smiling guards, the behavior is believed to be
one of the most damning acts toward Iraqi civilians by
coalition forces. Other acts of violence toward the
prisoners include physical abuse and still unproved
allegations of rape and murder.
The Abu Ghraib
prison, already infamous under Saddam Hussein’s
regime, for overcrowding, ill-treatment and torture, was
opened up by the over-extended military soon after the April
The inmates were a
mix of petty and hardened Iraqi criminals, suspected members
of the resistance, and thousands of innocent bystanders
hauled out of their homes in midnight raids or off the
streets of Baghdad. Many say that they just happened to be
in the wrong place at the wrong time, but were held without
charges by coalition forces for months before being
Unable to run the
prison themselves, the U.S. military hired private
translators from Titan, a California-based company,
interrogators from CACI, a Virginia-based company, two large
and well known military contractors. In addition, they hired
a small, virtually unknown contractor from Qatar, to provide
food to the inmates.
A shocked Army
Major, David Dinenna of the 320 Military Police Battalion,
was one of the first to recognize the food problem. In a
string of frantic e-mails to commanders during October and
November of 2003, he called for assistance from his chain of
command while working at the prison.
meals Disaster," he called it in an October 27 e-mail
last year. "That is the best way to describe this issue.
As each day goes by, the tension within the prisoner
populations increases," he continued. "For the
past two days prisoners have been vomiting after they
The food was
largely to blame for a November 24, 2003 prison riots in
which Army guards shot four detainees after the prisoners
failed to comply with commands to stop and disburse. A
subsequent Pentagon investigation found that prisoners were
not attempting a "mass" escape as first thought.
indicates that the detainees were simply protesting the
deplorable food and living conditions," the report
concludes, which attributes the same reasons to a second
prison riot on December 24, 2003.
and the riot investigations are part of a collection of
documents from a classified report by Army Major General
Anthony Taguba that was leaked to the news media last spring
together with the now-famous photos of naked prisoners. The
documents were originally obtained by several news
organizations, including US News & World Report, Rolling
Stone and the Center for Public Integrity in October 2004.
Torin Nelson, a
contract interrogator who worked at the prison from November
2003 until February 2004 and aided in the Taguba
investigation as a witness, arrived at Abu Ghraib just days
after the November riot.
He recalls being
told by witnesses that none of the guards had been informed
about the ongoing problems of bad food given to the
prisoners. "Because the guards didn't understand
Arabic, they didn't know the prisoners were complaining
about the food," Nelson said. "They thought there
was an uprising."
into screaming and the protest ignited panic among the
guards. Guns were pointed as more and more prisoners
gathered in the outburst. The situation spun out of control,
Nelson said. "The guards began firing non-lethal rounds
at the prisoners, but ran out. Then, what I was told, they
got permission to use lethal rounds.
While the U.S.
Justice Department is now investigating six private
contractors working as interrogators and translators for
Titan and CACI, for their roles in the mistreatment, the
food contractor remains forgotten and unnamed in the
numerous Pentagon investigations of the prison conditions
that have been made public.
name, American Service Center (ASC), based in Qatar, has
surfaced only after dozens of inquiries by CorpWatch over
the past month to the Pentagon and military officials in
The little known
firm boasts on a simple company Web site that it offers
services in the line of housing, furniture, vehicle rentals,
telephone and internet services. Closely affiliated to a
sister company, Advanced Internet Center, ASC claims to work
with the U.S. Amy in Qatar and military contractors such as
ITT and Dyncorp.
No mention is made
of food services or Abu Ghraib. ASC's owner and chief
executive, Ali Hadi, hesitates to talk about the contract or
his company's performance at the prison and declined to
respond to numerous e-mails with questions about his
"I have no
information about the project," Hadi said during a
phone call as he traveled to a Qatar airport en route to
Dubai. "I am the owner of the company," he said,
"not the operator,” adding that ASC subcontracted
the food contract for the prisoners to a local Baghdad
Despite the finding
of abysmal performance in providing food to prisoners, Hadi
said ASC holds about "10 to 16" other contracts
with the U.S. military, but he is unsure if they are
Any knowledge about
the Abu Ghraib contract died with ASC's contract manager,
Ray Parks, Hadi claimed. A 56-year-old West Virginia native
and former Vietnam veteran, Parks was ambushed and murdered
in his Baghdad driveway by three gunmen wearing black robes
on the morning of February 16. At the time, Parks was
preparing to resign from his job as director of ASC.
Family members of
Parks immediately demanded a thorough investigation of
events surrounding his murder. Millie Mercer, sister to
Parks, said that an Army investigator called the Parks
family, but then disappeared. Very little came of the
investigation, Mercer said. The investigator "was
Parks had been a
government contractor for many years outside the United
States and went to Iraq because he "wanted to help
people." He took a job with ASC in June 2003 to work in
computers, she added. Mercer wants to hear nothing more
about her brother's death. She prefers holding on to the
good memories. "So many contractors are seeing much
bigger horrors," she said.
But Major Dinenna
appeared to believe that Parks was contributing to the
horror of Abu Ghraib in his e-mails. "Parks is full of
shit and not the least bit trustworthy," Dinenna wrote
in a second Oct. 27, 2003, e-mail complaining about food for
prisoners marked "URGENT URGENT URGENT."
responding to an earlier e-mail from an Army Major Green,
who discounted Dinenna's complaints about the food service
and other services ASC was relied upon to provide. "Who
is making the charges that there is dirt, bugs or what ever
in the food?" Green asked in his e-mails. "If it
is the prisoners, I would take it with a grain of
Dinenna fired back:
"Our MPs (military police), Medics and field surgeon
can easily identify bugs, rats, and dirt, and they
In addition to
providing food services, ASC was also retained under an $8.2
million agreement to provide "life support"
services to the U.S. military at the prison, Hadi said.
But there appears
to have been confusion about that support contract among
prison commanders. In his string of e-mails, Dinenna faults
Parks for constant delays in providing proper lighting for
the prison to help in security and prevent escapes.
Then after months
of pushing Parks to provide the lighting, Dinenna discovered
from a commanding officer that ASC was not responsible for
The ASC contracts
are only another example of poor contracting performance in
Iraq and bad planning on the part of the Pentagon, said
Peter Singer, an expert on the contracting for military
services at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.
"It just shows
how the Pentagon has operated on an ad hoc basis,"
Singer said. "They were lacking in the needed planning,
services and doctrine to manage large scale prisons.
Everything was done at the last minute."
that the end result of last minute planning resulted in long
term problems for the United States and its role in Iraq.
"All the sickness and rotten food not only produced a
safety and security concern for the guards and the
prisoners," he said. "It was also a morale factor.
Here were all these rich Americans coming to Iraq to fix
things and they couldn't even afford to feed the
A group of
interrogators also complained to Colonel Thomas Pappas, the
Army officer in charge of the prison, in November 2003,
about the poor quality of the food served to the inmates by
the food contractors. Nelson says that the sickness made it
hard for the interrogators to extract information from
detainees. "Anything that affects the morale of the
locals affect our mission," he added.
In May 2004, the
contract for food service at Abu Ghraib was taken away from
ASC, according to Army spokesman Jeff Magruder in Baghdad
who said the company apparently was responsible for most
aspects of the prison, ranging from power generation to food
ASC "did a
good job on the other stuff but obviously not so good a job
on the food services side for both detainees and
soldiers," Magruder said. "Their main problem was
that the food would sometimes be rotten and the calorie
content was not up to their standards."
Today the food for
detainees and soldiers is "much better," Magruder
says. Meals for detainees "now far exceed all
international standards for calorie content and provide food
that is more culturally sensitive. Also, during Ramadan they
worked an alternate chow schedule to assist those who were