Guantanamo firm enters schools

Company connected with notorious US army interrogations is taking British pupils' fingerprints. Michael Shaw reports

A military company connected to the US interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay camp is behind a finger-printing system used in British schools.

VeriCool, which runs fingerprint registration and cashless school lunch systems in 22 UK schools, is part of Anteon, an American company which provides training and technology for the US military.

Anteon has the contract to run specialist courses on topics including interrogation and counter-intelligence at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, headquarters of the US Army Intelligence Center.

The company, recently bought by a larger defence business, General Dynamics Information Technology, has been accused of training interrogators who worked at the detention centre in Guantanamo Bay.

Its instructors have included former staff sergeant Jeannette Arocho-Burkart, who was criticised for humiliating Iraqi captives at Abu Ghraib using techniques such as smearing them with red ink which they were told was menstrual blood.

Anteon was also involved in running news websites in the Balkans and Africa which claimed to provide impartial coverage but were in fact funded by the US military to broadcast propaganda. The Pentagon ruled in December that the websites had not violated US law.

VeriCool, based in Anteon's UK headquarters in Peterborough, said that the company's education and defence work were separate.

Paul Coase, business manager, said that VeriCool benefited from the support of its parent company as it was able to fund research and ensure that the systems were as secure as possible.

He said that the system had originally been developed for civilian use in North Virginia and that many accusations he had heard about Anteon were "farcical".

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said heads would be keen to know about the international work of supplier companies. "Schools are pretty ethical places, so they might have concerns," he said.

A spokesman for Anteon refused to comment on the criticisms made about the company.

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