Abu Ghraib company will not be used again for Scottish Census?

Duncan Macniven, Registrar General

Duncan Macniven, Registrar General for Scotland, oversaw the Scottish census. In ongoing correspondence about the use of CACI (a company employed by the US Government at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq where horrific human rights abuses occurred) to run the Scottish Census 2011. I have asked him to confirm a statement made to me by census workers that CACI will not be used to run the next census.

Below you will find (1) the Registrar General’s reply to my letter to him about the use of CACI (a company employed by the US government to work at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where prisoners were tortured) to run the Scottish Census, (2) my response to this letter and (3) a letter from a representative of my MEP to whom I also wrote on the subject.  You will see from (2) that census workers have told me that CACI will not be used in the next census and that I will not be prosecuted for refusing to complete the census form in protest at the use of CACI.

1. Letter from the Registrar General (in response to the letter on this page):

27 April 2011

Dear Eric

TORTURE, THE SCOTTISH CENSUS 2011 AND A QUESTION OF CONSCIENCE

Thank you for your interesting letter of 21 April.

I appreciate the dilemma you are in. But I think you should take the following additional points into consideration:-

  • CACI International hotly deny that its staff, who were at Abu Ghraib providing legal interrogation services under contract to the US Government, were involved in the unacceptable human rights abuses which took place there;
  • The company has made clear publicly its abhorrence of human rights abuses;
  • The 2011 Census was authorised by the Scottish Parliament- which (as you know better than most people!) is the democratically-elected representative body on devolved matters like the census — when it approved the Census (Scotland) Order 2010;
  • The Order required affirmative resolution of the Scottish Parliament and it was debated in detail last Spring. The Order was not concerned with the detail of how the information technology underlying the census was provided. But the existence of our contract with CACI (UK) Ltd was widely known to MSPs. It was referred to in “Scotland’s Census 2011 — A Government Statement”, which set out our plans for the census, which was published and laid before Parliament in December 2008 and which was the main background paper for Parliament’s consideration of the Order. Quite a number of MSPs had also written to Ministers about CACI International’s involvement at Abu Ghraib.

In short, the company denies the allegations against it and our elected representatives considered that, notwithstanding these allegations, the census was so important to Scotland that it should go ahead. As I am sure you know, Parliament has also decided that the importance of getting a complete picture of Scotland is such that every householder should be obliged to fill in the census questionnaire. Householders who refuse to do so are liable to a fine of up to £1,000. It may not matter to you that your unique characteristics might be missed by the Scottish census – but it matters to me and to our elected representatives, and I suspect that you know the vital part that the statistics drawn from the census play in the good government of Scotland.

For all these reasons, I strongly suggest that you should fill in the census questionnaire and return it to us.

Yours

Duncan

DUNCAN MACNIVEN

Registrar General for Scotland

2. My reply to the Registrar General’s letter:

16 May 2011

Dear Duncan

Torture, the Scottish Census 2011 and a question of conscience

Thank you for your letter of 27 April in response to mine of 21 April, and apologies for the delay in replying – I was away and the first opportunity I had to read your letter was on 14 May.

I appreciate many of the points you make, including that regarding the value of the census, and would like to emphasise that my decision not to complete the census form was not easy and that I do not blame GROS or Scottish politicians for the employment of CACI. However, as you know, I do find fault with European procurement law. I am therefore pleased to inform you that the MEP to whom I wrote on this subject has assured me that the European parliamentary group to which he belongs is “firmly in support of the inclusion of environmental and social chapters in the procurement process, as well as supporting greater access to SMEs and more recognition of the issues linked to globalisation, with particular reference to the need for the EU to protect its social, environmental and human rights rules in the context of public procurement open to non-EU bidders”.

With regard to my contention that CACI is complicit in human rights abuses, given that I am certain that the invasion of Iraq will be seen by posterity as a war crime (committed by the political leaders of the UK and USA at the time), that massive human rights abuses did occur in Abu Ghraib, and that CACI was happy to work for the US authorities there and, at the very least, did not stop abuses from taking place, I believe I am on safe ground. I also believe that it is my moral duty to use reasonable peaceful means to discourage governments and organisations from supporting such ventures in the future. Governments must know that actions such as the invasion of Iraq, which most intelligent people will surely concede was done on a pretext, and which resulted in a million or so casualties (ORB survey press release attached for your interest), will have domestic consequences as well as international ones.

To some extent this correspondence is academic now, as, on my first full day back in Edinburgh (14 May) since my initial letter to you, I was visited by two representatives of the Scottish Census. I discussed my attitude to CACI with them and opened your letter in their presence. They told me that I would not be prosecuted if I simply confirmed my name, date of birth, marital status and address. Given what I have said above, you will understand that I found myself unable to supply further information, however. I was delighted to be informed that CACI would not be contracted to complete a future census. Could you confirm that this is the case? (If it is not the case, what actions will you be taking to stop your employees from disseminating false information?) Assuming that it is the case, and given that the gentlemen could not be certain of procurement law changing before the next census, I must assume that this is because the General Register Office for Scotland will be able to argue that CACI cannot deliver a complete census in view of the protests a further contract would be likely to generate. I understand that it is unlikely that you will be able to confirm this latter point, but I must inform you that if CACI, or another organisation complicit in significant violations of human rights, is used, then I shall feel it my moral duty to be more vigorous and pro-active in my opposition.

Again, let me state that I have no personal animus here and that I appreciate the constraints under which you work.

Best regards

Eric

R. Eric Swanepoel

[UPDATE:  Subsequent to putting the above on my blog I have received this response.]

3. A letter from the office of my MEP (in response to my letter to him):

Alyn Smith MEP
A representative of Alyn Smith MEP has told me that their political group in the European Parliament (Greens/EFA) is firmly in support of the inclusion of environmental and social chapters in the procurement process, as well as supporting greater access to SMEs and more recognition of the issues linked to globalisation, with particular reference to the need for the EU to protect its social, environmental and human rights rules in the context of public procurement open to non-EU bidders.

10th May 2011

Dear Eric,

Thank you for taking the time to write to Alyn Smith MEP. As he is travelling at the moment, he has consequently asked me to respond to your email on his behalf.

Alyn is aware of the concerns surrounding the 2011 Census contract to CACI (UK) Ltd. Any link to the human rights abuses that were committed at Abu Ghraib prison is clearly deeply unfortunate and embarrassing for the UK arm of this company.

As you may be aware, the main contract for back office services for the 2011 Census was awarded in June 2009 to CACI (UK) Ltd. As part of the procurement process, the Registrar General obtained references about previous contracts that CACI (UK) Ltd had completed, as assurance of the company’s capability to deliver the required services. The Registrar General also obtained copies of recent published accounts for CACI (UK) Ltd to ensure its financial stability, as well as details of its insurance cover and accreditations, and carried out other research on the status and history of the company.

The contract with CACI (UK) was awarded under EU procurement rules which do not allow bidders to be excluded because they are subsidiaries of US companies. But the Registrar General put in place contractual precautions described in paragraph 6.8 of Scotland’s Census 2011: a Government Statement, laid before the Parliament in December 2008.

A statement from Registrar General Duncan Macniven on the census contract with CACI (UK) contained the following points:

The contract, which covered the census rehearsal as well as the census itself, involves printing census questionnaires and other materials, providing a questionnaire for people to complete on the internet, capturing the data from the paper and internet questionnaires and processing the results ready for the statistical outputs to be calculated. We awarded the contract under EU competitive tendering law which applies to all public bodies. Of the proposals we received, CACI (UK)’s gave best value for the taxpayer. EU rules do not allow bidders to be excluded because they are foreign companies, or have some involvement with the defence industry. CACI (UK) is neither of these.

However, the statement went on to say:

As an organisation fundamentally committed to ethical conduct, we would never have any dealings with a company convicted of human rights abuse. EU procurement rules allow bidders to be excluded if they have been convicted of certain criminal or other offences. But none of these exclusions applies to CACI (UK) – or indeed to its US parent, which has not been convicted of human rights abuses. The US parent company strongly denies the allegations made against it and makes clear its abhorrence of human rights violations. So l could not legally have refused to contract with CACI (UK). (http://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/en/news/articles/StatementonCensusContractor.html)

On Tuesday 2 March 2011, John Swinney MSP assured the Scottish Parliament that a “full evaluation of the Census programme, including the awarding of the contract which includes IT support, will take place following the completion of the Census.”

Should you like to see the Scottish Census Steering Committee’s paper, “Response to Controversy about CACI (UK)”, please follow the link below:

http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk/files2/the-census/preparations/meetings/scsc-paper5-sept-2009.pdf

Regarding your further points on reform of EU procurement policy, they do raise some interesting ideas. As you may be aware, the European Commission has just recently closed their consultation on possible reform of procurement policy, and is also undertaking an evaluation to take stock of the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the current European public procurement rules. This consultation specifically questions whether “…the EU public procurement rules be modified to allow other policy objectives such as promotion of innovation or environmental or social considerations to be better taken into account? For instance, should there be EU rules establishing obligations to buy only products respecting certain environmental conditions or to set aside a certain percentage of the budget for innovative goods and services? Are customised rules needed for the procurement of social services of general economic interest, to better match the specificities of these services?

The results of this evaluation and of the consultation will be discussed at a conference on public procurement reform on 30th June 2011 in Brussels. These discussions will then feed a into any future legislative proposals on public procurement. I will be monitoring what conclusions are reached at this event. Personally, I would be surprised if future legislative proposals emanating from the Commission do not contain more particular guidance regarding the inclusion of social and environmental objectives. However, at the moment we will have to wait to see the initial proposals.

Our political group in the European Parliament (Greens/EFA) is also firmly in support of the inclusion of environmental and social chapters in the procurement process, as well as supporting greater access to SMEs and more recognition of the issues linked to globalisation, with particular reference to the need for the EU to protect its social, environmental and human rights rules in the context of public procurement open to non-EU bidders. The European Parliament’s most recent report on this issue (drafted by Heide Ruhle who is a member of our group) includes the above points. This position should be taken into account by the Commission as they come forward with their own legislative proposals.

Once again, thank you very much for taking the time to write to Alyn and please be assured that we will continue to monitor this as the legislation progresses.

Kind Regards,

Leanne Dobson

Administrative Assistant to Alyn Smith MEP, Member of the European Parliament for Scotland

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About biowrite

I am a writer specialising in non-fiction, particularly in assisting people with their biographies.
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2 Responses to Abu Ghraib company will not be used again for Scottish Census?

  1. Dr Edward Horgan says:

    Dear Eric,
    Thank you for taking this principled stand on the use of the CACI company for the Scotish Census. You may be aware that the Irish Census authority, the CSO has also used the same company to do it computer work on the Irish 2011 Census. I fine myself in a similar situation to you in that I have principled objections to completing my sensus due to the involvement of CACI with the Irish Census, and the involvement of its parent company with human rights abuses in Abu Graib and elsewhere. Because I have refused to submit my Census form to the Irish CSO due to CACI involvement I have received a registered letter from the Census supervisor telling me that I will be presecuted and that I can be fined up to €25,000 (I note the fine in Scotland is only £1,000). I would like to correspond with you directly on this matter and would appreciate if you could send me your email contact details. I am a human rights activist, and cannot as a matter of conscience cooperate in any way with a company such as CACI, and I feel it is essential to ensure that this company is excluded from any further involvement with future Irish census.
    Yours sincerely
    Dr Edward Horgan

    • biowrite says:

      Dear Dr Hogan

      Many thanks for this. My contact details may be found here: http://www.biowrite.co.uk/contact.html. I think the important thing to stress is that you are happy to provide them with the information they require and merely want them to assure you that CACI will not be involved in processing it. Stay polite and friendly in tone. By all means use my words as a model if this would be helpful. Please find below the original letter I sent to the Registrar General.

      All the best

      Eric

      Dear Mr Macniven

      Torture, the Scottish Census 2011 and a question of conscience

      Before I come to my point, it is important for me to make clear what I understand the situation to be regarding CACI and the Scottish Census 2011:

      CACI Ltd was awarded the £18.5 million contract for key information technology work and other services for the 2011 Scottish Census.  CACI Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of CACI International, and the latter is a US-based defence contractor which was contracted to provide “interrogation services” at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. While CACI staff were employed as interrogators at Abu Ghraib, prisoners were tortured there by US military police.  Former Abu Ghraib detainees say they were tortured in various ways by CACI and its co-conspirators, including torture with electric shocks, beating, forced nakedness, forced participation in physical activities to the point of exhaustion, sensory deprivation, deprivation of food, deprivation of oxygen and torture with extremely hot and cold water. CACI staff interrogated people held without charge or trial at Abu Ghraib. Prisoners they questioned were deprived of human rights guaranteed in international norms. The “rules of engagement” at Abu Ghraib permitted sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation and intimidation by dogs. Although CACI denies wrongdoing, it is trying to block lawsuits brought against it by former Abu Ghraib prisoners by claiming “official immunity”.

      While EU procurement rules, set out in Directive 2004/18/EC, give contracting authorities discretion to exclude a contractor that “has been guilty of grave professional misconduct proven by any means which the contracting authorities can demonstrate”, I am prepared to accept that neither yourself nor, more generally, the Scottish Government, believed that according to the strict letter of the law you had any choice but to approve CACI’s tender.  Indeed, I think the fault lies with EU procurement law, and therefore I have written to one of my MEPs on this broader issue.  Be this as it may, there is now the question of what a person of conscience should do when the law appears to be not merely an ass, but to wish to channel funds to an organisation which there are reasonable grounds for believing has been complicit in torture and in other breaches of human rights. I maintain that human rights considerations must take priority. Indeed, my conscience tells me that if I were to allow CACI to process the information on my form I would effectively be condoning torture.

      I have decided that it would not be right for me to refuse to give the General Register Office of Scotland my census data, per se.  On the other hand, if I were to allow GROS to use CACI to process the information, I would indirectly be benefiting an organisation which I consider, beyond reasonable doubt, to have participated in flagrant breaches of human rights. It would be intolerable for me to think that I had anything to do with encouraging organisations to believe that they could indulge in human rights abuses without it affecting their ability to profit from public contracts. I am therefore not prepared to give you my census form until I receive your personal assurance that the information I provide will not be handled in any way by any employee or subcontractor of CACI. I would be prepared to enter the data myself, but then would still want reassurance that the information I provide would not be processed by CACI.

      Alternatively, if you were prepared to make a public statement on the inadequacy of EU procurement law and your concern about the appropriateness of employing organisations associated with the military to conduct censuses, I would be prepared to submit my form.

      I appreciate the difficult position you are in and do hope we can reach an amicable compromise. I must repeat that I do not consider you or the Scottish Government directly responsible for this situation, and am not refusing to give you my census data, per se. I thank you in advance for your careful consideration of this letter.

      Yours sincerely

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