Abu Ghraib Defendants: Pawns in a Game

The court martial of Army reservist Jeremy Sivits for his alleged role in the abuse of prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison is scheduled to start on May 19. The folks back home in Hyndman, Pennsylvania, however, are skeptical:

“Despite the graphic photos of prisoners being mistreated, townsfolk refuse to believe Sivits, 24, was capable of acting so inhumanely without at least some pressure by his superiors. … ‘Everybody knows that boy, and if he did it, he was ordered to do it,’ said Jody Emerick, 34, whose grandparents once owned the house where Sivits’ parents, Daniel and Freda, now live.”

His father, Daniel Sivits, says his son “was just doing what he was told to do” when he allegedly took many of the photos that are now shocking the world. His son, he avers, was trained as a diesel mechanic, not a prison guard. The accused claims he can be seen in one of the photos trying to help a prisoner.

“Puggs” Sivits was proud to wear the uniform, and friends say he “reveled” in the life of a soldier. Heather Werner, his high school sweetheart, recalls: “He loved talking about it.” Sivits showed up at her high school prom in his dress uniform, says Heather: “I thought he looked great.” Returning from the Balkans a year later, he met a schoolteacher and fell in love. They married before he shipped out to Iraq.

Specialist Sivits is charged with “conspiracy to maltreat subordinates and detainees, dereliction of duty for negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty and maltreatment, and maltreatment of detainees.” Five others face similar charges.

Sivits may well be guilty of any or all of these crimes. Aside from that, however, it is highly doubtful that he and the other five decided to embark on a sadistic orgy, over a period of three months, all on their own, without the knowledge or consent of their superior officers.

They are going after the smallest cogs in their own terror machine in the hope that attention and anger will be diverted away from the real perpetrators of these monstrous crimes.

It’s interesting that Sivits is mentioned in the Taguba report – the Army’s own internal assessment of the situation at Abu Ghraib – only once, and that is when he is listed as a “suspect.” His specific crime is nowhere noted. On the other hand, the report does affix primary blame on four individuals:

“Specifically, I suspect that COL Thomas M. Pappas, LTC Steve L. Jordan, Mr. Steven Stephanowicz, and Mr. John Israel were either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib (BCCF) and strongly recommend immediate disciplinary action as described in the preceding paragraphs as well as the initiation of a Procedure 15 Inquiry to determine the full extent of their culpability.”

Furthermore, General Taguba goes into some detail, describing the key role played by this gang of four in permitting and even orchestrating the abuse. Of Pappas, Commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade and the Commander of FOB Abu Ghraib, Taguba recommended a reprimand for failing to supervise the troops that were, at least theoretically, under his command. As for Lt. Col. Jordan, former Director of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center attached to the 205th MI Brigade, Taguba advised not only a reprimand but also that Jordan be relieved of his command.

The two “civilian” contractors, John Israel and Steven Stephanowicz, who share the blame with Pappas and Jordan, are the most intriguing characters in this fast developing drama, and the most mysterious. We know everything about Lynndie England – the “trailer park girl in the eye of the storm,” as the UK Mirror puts it – the “pixie-ish” Appalachian girl who appears in so many of the photos, giving a thumbs up and grinning idiotically, looking every inch the born victim. But who the heck is John Israel? We don’t even know who employs him. As one news report notes:

“The other contractor implicated, John Israel, identified as a civilian translator assigned to the same brigade, is described in one place in the Army report as a CACI employee and in another as an employee of Titan, which provides translators for the Army throughout Iraq.”

The New York Times reports:

“Ralph Williams, a spokesman for the Titan Corporation in San Diego, said Tuesday that John Israel, one of the contract employees implicated in the prison abuse scandal, worked for a Titan subcontractor that he would not name.”


A wide-ranging Google search turns up only two references to individuals who may or may not be the mysterious John Israel: This one, based on the email address alone. And this one, located on a Yahoo website/mailist devoted to discussing the role-playing computer games Twilight 2000 and Merc 2000.

Mr. Stefanowicz (news accounts consistently misspell his name “Stephanowicz,” as does the Taguba report) is less mysterious but no less intriguing. This is due in large part to the efforts of his mother, Jean Campbell, and the U.S. Department of Defense, which used her story as propaganda to support the war effort. In a piece distributed by the Armed Forces News Service and featured on the DoD’s propaganda website, Stefanowicz’s Mom is depicted as a paragon of patriotic virtue:

“Jean Campbell’s son, Navy Petty Officer Steven Stefanowicz, is on active duty with the U.S. Navy in the Middle East. She is championing his service by uniting service members’ mothers in her home state.

"Campbell, of Telford, Pa., joined the Blue Star Mothers and set up a chapter of the nonprofit service organization. She hopes to spark a chain reaction with chapters forming in every county.”

The Taguba report describes Stefanowicz as a “civilian Contract Interrogator” employed by CACI, and attached to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. Taguba goes on to accuse him of having “made a false statement to the investigation team regarding the locations of his interrogations, the activities during his interrogations, and his knowledge of abuses.”

Stefanowicz had been living in Adelaide, Australia, for some reason, although he had earlier served as a reservist, and is quoted by an Australian newspaper, a week after the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

“‘It was one of the most incredible and most devastating things I have ever seen,’ he told an Australian newspaper the week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. ;I have been in constant contact with my family and friends in the U.S., and the mood was very solemn and quiet. But this is progressing into anger.'”

A whole lot of anger, apparently.

As in the case of John Israel, we don’t even know who employs Stefanowicz. According to the Philadelphia Daily News:

“What’s more, CACI International steadfastly refuses to even say whether Stefanowicz really does work for the Arlington, Va.-based defense contractor – refusing to return several phone calls and an e-mail from the Daily News. In a lengthy conference call with investment analysts yesterday morning, top executives insisted that one of two men named in news accounts – Stefanowicz and John Israel – in fact does not work for them. A company executive – it wasn’t clear from the call which one – did say that one of the named employees was still on the payroll and ‘by all accounts doing a damned fine job.'”

You figure it out!

As far as anyone knows, both Stefanowicz and John Israel are still stationed at Abu Ghraib, but, incredibly, the former is now telling his friends that he’s coming home – no, not back to the small town outside Philadelphia where he was brought up, but to Australia, where he worked for 18 months in the “information technology” field and where his fiancée lives. As The Australian reports,

“[Stefanowicz] wrote to an Adelaide friend on Thursday, saying he wanted to leave Iraq: ‘It’s safe to say I’ve seen enough for a lifetime here in Iraq and it’s definitely time to come home,’ the 35-year-old said in an email. …’He’s coming back to Australia shortly – he feels like Adelaide is his home,’ said one acquaintance from the IT industry.'”

It’s all so very casual: a likely war criminal is going to just get on a plane and sashay over to Australia, where he’ll take up where he left off and marry the girl of his dreams, his “anger” over 9/11 apparently abated.

Will Stefanowicz get away with it? Will the U.S. authorities allow him to just run off, and take refuge in Australia or some other country, getting off scot-free while poor slobs like Sivits, Trailer-Park Lynndie, and the other fall guys get the book thrown at them?

If Stefanowicz is allowed to flee Iraq, without being arrested either by the Americans or the Iraqis, then we have the right to ask: who and what is being protected here?

That top U.S. officials knew and approved of how the detainees were “softened up” for interrogation is now coming out. Stefanowicz and John Israel, the two “civilian” contract employees, played key roles in all this, and are likely the primary links to high-ups. Yet their role is being steadfastly ignored, and one of them is being allowed to sneak away quietly – while their instruments, a bunch of clueless kids who did as they were told, take the rap.

The cover-up proceeds apace, with our brain-dead “mainstream” media criminally complicit. Whether this is through incompetence or intention is hard to discern, and hardly worth wondering about: after all, the net effect is the same. As Martha Frederick, wife of one of the accused, trenchantly remarked:

“Those who are responsible are standing behind the curtain and watching him take the fall for it. It’s almost like being a pawn in a chess game.”

If the Abu Ghraib defendants are pawns in a game, then who are the players? Whose hidden hands manipulate their destinies, like so many expendable pieces on a chessboard?

Everything about this war has been shrouded in secrecy and covered over by a thick layer of lies and subterfuges. The “Office of Special Plans,” the “White House Iraq Group,” and other ad hoc semi-clandestine operations, set up by the neocons in the dark bowels of the national security bureaucracy, went outside regular channels and operated as essentially independent entities. This war and its disastrous aftermath were engineered, reports Bob Woodward in his new book, Plan of Attack, by the Vice President and his neoconservative Praetorian Guard in a veritable coup d’etat:

“Powell felt Cheney and his allies – his chief aide, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and what Powell called Feith’s ‘Gestapo’ office – had established what amounted to a separate government.”

Could that “separate government” have sent its agents to Iraq – in the form of “private” contractors – and carried out its own military policy in the name of fighting the “war on terrorism” – by terroristic means? Inquiring minds want to know….


Okay, so we’re getting pretty near the end of our fundraising effort, and, as you probably know, we’ve upped our goal by 10,000 bucks this time around, in hopes of hiring a news editor. As of this writing, it isn’t at all clear to me that we’ll make it. Oh, sure, we’ll have enough to get along in the same old way. But – you know what? – that just isn’t good enough anymore.

We have more traffic than ever, ranging from 60,000 to nearly 100,000 unique visitors each and every weekday, averaging around 55,000 on weekends. We are working day and night to make sure the site is updated with the latest news and the most trenchant analysis, and, frankly, we’re f**k**g exhausted, burnt out, toasted. We sure could use some help around here – namely a news editor to take some of the burden off our completely snowed-under and relatively minuscule staff.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].