Letter to John Swinney

Letter from SACC to John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth

7 March 2011

Dear Mr Swinney,

I am writing on behalf of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities to remind you of our petition calling for the Scottish Government to cancel the census contact with CACI Ltd and to take steps to ensure an ethical Scottish census.

As you know, the petition has been published on our website since September 2008. As you will also know, an unsuccessful attempt was made by lawyers acting for CACI, with the knowledge of the General Register Office of Scotland (GROS), to suppress the publication of this petition. A copy of the petition is enclosed.

I would also like to remind you of my letter to you on this matter, dated 7 October 2008.

In SACC’s view, the points raised in the petition and in my letter are as relevant now as they were at the time of writing. The need for action from the Scottish Government is also just as clear now as it was then.

However, it is clear that the request in our petition for the Scottish Government to “take steps to ensure that the Scottish people can have confidence in the ethical probity of the 2011 Census” is no longer achievable. SACC now believes that the only way forward is for the Scottish Government to postpone the census until the necessary measures can be taken.

I appreciate that the Scottish Government has acknowledged public concerns over the involvement of CACI in the Scottish census and has taken steps that are said to address the risk of personal data being passed, via CACI UK and its US-based parent company, to the US Government. However, SACC remains concerned that these very complex issues of data security have not been sufficiently addressed. No information has been made public about detailed arrangements to enforce the data security provisions said to have been built into the contract with CACI. Nor have any details been made public of an audit process that could detect breaches of security. It is difficult to understand how measures of the sort likely to be necessary could be put in place without increasing the census budget, which as far as I am aware has not occurred.

Whether or not the data security issue can be resolved, CACI’s human rights record makes it unfit for work on the Scottish census.

It is a matter of record that CACI staff were involved in the institutional denial of human rights to prisoners held by US forces at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Detention conditions at Abu Ghraib, even if considered generally satisfactory by the US authorities, did not meet internationally acceptable standards.

CACI’s undisputed long-term involvement in Abu Ghraib Prison – where appalling prisoner abuse has been proven to have occurred – constitutes grossly unethical conduct

Additionally, former Abu Ghraib prisoners have alleged that CACI was responsible for a range of serious offences committed against them. CACI has not disputed the substance of the allegations in court, but claims to be protected by “official immunity” as a US Government contractor. The defence of “official immunity” depends on the special position of the US President in US law and would have little chance of success in a British or European court.

GROS said in October 2008, in response to a Freedom of Information request, that the cases brought by the former prisoners “have not proceeded.” In fact, the cases were at that time progressing slowly but steadily through the US legal system. One case (Al Shimari v. CACI et al.) is now before a Federal Appeals Court. Another case (Saleh et al v. Titan et al.) is before the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has asked for input from President Obama.

In these circumstances, the involvement of CACI in the Scottish census is intolerable. Data gathered in the census will be used for decades, and perhaps for centuries. It is unacceptable for this data to be tainted by the horrors of Abu Ghraib.

In SACC’s view, it still isn’t too late to cancel the census contract with CACI. It would then be necessary to put measures before the Scottish Parliament to postpone the census until it can be conducted properly. The disruption caused by these steps would of course be substantial. But it would be far better than allowing the census to proceed in its present form.

It appears from GROS’s response to Freedom of Information requests that GROS has formed a misleading picture both of CACI’s established involvement in human rights abuses and of the cases relating to offences that CACI and CACI staff are alleged to have committed. GROS’s belief in 2008 that the cases against CACI “have not proceeded” is now demonstrably untrue. According to GROS, CACI had sight of GROS’s Freedom of Information responses. It therefore seems that CACI may have contributed to the misleading picture held by GROS. If that is the case, the Scottish Government should seek compensation from CACI for costs resulting from cancelling the contract.

I hope that the Scottish Government will now act urgently and decisively to ensure that Scotland’s census is an ethical one.

Yours sincerely
Richard Haley
(Chair, SACC)

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