Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, pressed retired Maj. Gen. Robert Harding to answer questions about whether interrogators employed by his company in 2004 ever violated the Geneva Conventions or were accused of prisoner abuse. The interrogators were based at Camp Slayer, near Baghdad International Airport, but also did work at Camp Cropper — a location where abuse was well documented by the Red Cross in 2003.
"No, senator, they were never accused of anything like that," Harding said.
The interrogation contract also drew financial scrutiny. Harding's firm, Harding Security Associates, won a $54 million contract to provide the Defense Intelligence Agency with civilian interrogators for the Iraq Survey Group. The government terminated the contract after only a year and ultimately paid Harding's outfit about $6 million, triggering an audit that revealed the company had overbilled the government by at least $860,000. When the firm appealed the audit, Harding told the committee, negotiations resulted in Harding Security Associates repaying an additional $1.8 million to the government — a total worth more than one-third of the total contract cost.
Collins pushed back against White House claims that the money was merely a fraction of the overall contract. "It appears to me that of the $6 million that Harding Security Associates was paid, $2.4 million was questioned," she said. "The White House in talking to me about the issue compared it to $54 million. I thought the White House's comparison was pretty misleading."
Harding acknowledged the contract's problems. "I accept the mistakes I made on this side," Harding said. "If confirmed, I believe that this private sector management lesson learned would benefit me in my new post."
Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) also pressed Harding over whether he would back unionizing TSA airport screeners, a proposal that led Obama's first choice to head the agency to withdraw his name amid intense political opposition.
Harding said he would focus on implementing the president's policy. "I guarantee you, Mr. Chairman, my recommendations would be very unbiased. They would be very factual, and I think that's what I would owe the president," he said.
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