WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army on Wednesday announced the award of a no-bid contract worth up to $23 million to CACI International Inc. to continue providing private interrogators to gather intelligence in Iraq.
The contract came just as the Interior Department was preparing to cancel the existing contract with Virginia-based CACI, which came under intense scrutiny earlier this year after one of its interrogators was cited for involvement in the sexual humiliation of Iraqi captives at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.
The new contract will allow close supervision of civilian interrogators, a U.S. Army official said.
"Our military intelligence folks can have direct control of the civilian contract personnel and ensure they follow proper procedures," the senior Army contracting official said.
The Army said that coalition forces were "satisfied" with CACI's performance, and said that there had been no evidence to date that CACI itself was responsible for wrongdoing in connection with the scandal.
The Army official said CACI was awarded the contract without competitive bidding in order to avoid any lapse in providing private interrogators to question prisoners held at U.S.-run facilities in Iraq. The official said the Army planned to award a competitive contract for private interrogators in coming months.
The Army has defended its use of privately hired interrogators, saying they are needed to relieve a huge backlog of work.
"We awarded to CACI because they were in place, and we couldn't get another contract in place" before mid-August, when the Interior Department was planning to end the existing contract with CACI, the senior Army contracting official said.
A CACI spokeswoman did not immediately return phone calls for comment.
CACI's Army contract came under fire in April, after a report by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba that found evidence of serious abuse of prisoners by U.S. military personnel and private contractors at Abu Ghraib prison.
The images showing U.S. soldiers taunting naked Iraqi prisoners became one of the U.S.-led occupation's darkest moments, and led to a series of investigations by the Pentagon.
Taguba specifically found that Steven A. Stefanowicz, a CACI employee, "clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse" and recommended that he be fired for his actions. Stefanowicz has denied any wrongdoing, and CACI has not terminated anyone in connection with the scandal.
Since the accusations against it surfaced, CACI has battled to clear its name. The company repeatedly proclaimed its innocence, even as its stock price dropped more than 10%.
This week, California's state treasurer, Phil Angelides, recommended that state pension funds sell off the company's stock if it remained in the business of providing interrogators.