20 Years Later, Abu Ghraib Torture Victims Get Their Day In Court

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024 - 12:20 AM

Authored by Brett Wilkins via Common Dreams,

Two decades after they were tortured by U.S. military contractors at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, three Iraqi victims are finally getting their day in court Monday as a federal court in Virginia takes up a case they brought during the George W. Bush administration.

The case being heard in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Al Shimari v. CACI, was first filed in 2008 under the Alien Tort Statute—which allows non-U.S. citizens to sue for human rights abuses committed abroad—by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of three Iraqis. The men suffered torture directed and perpetrated by employees of CACI, a Virginia-based professional services and information technology firm hired in 2003 by the Bush administration as translators and interrogators in Iraq during the illegal U.S.-led invasion and occupation.

Via AP: June 22, 2004 photo of a detainee in an outdoor solitary confinement cell talking with a military police officer at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Plaintiffs Suhail Al Shimari, Asa'ad Zuba'e, and Salah Al-Ejaili accuse CACI of conspiring to commit war crimes including torture at Abu Ghraib, where the men suffered broken bones, electric shocks, sexual abuse, extreme temperatures, and death threats at the hands of their U.S. interrogators.

"This lawsuit is a critical step towards justice for these three men who will finally have their day in court. But they are the lucky few," Sarah Sanbar, an Iraq researcher at Human Rights Watch, wrote on Monday. "For the hundreds of other survivors still suffering from past abuses, their chances of justice remain slim."

"The U.S. government should do the right thing: Take responsibility for their abuses, offer an apology, and open an avenue to redress that has been denied them for too many years," Sanbar added.

U.S. military investigators found that employees of CACI and Titan Corporation (now L3 Technologies) tortured Iraqi prisoners and encouraged U.S. troops to do likewise. Dozens of Abu Ghraib detainees died in U.S. custody, some of them as a result of being tortured to death. Abu Ghraib prisoners endured torture ranging from rape and being attacked with dogs to being forced to eat pork and renounce Islam.

A May 2004 report by Maj. Gen. Anthony Taguba concluded that the majority of Abu Ghraib prisoners—the Red Cross said 70-90%— were innocent. In addition to thousands of men and boys, some women and girls were also jailed there as bargaining chips meant to induce wanted insurgents to surrender. Some of them said they were raped or sexually abused by their American captors; lesser-known Abu Ghraib photos show women being forced to expose their private parts. Some female detainees were reportedly murdered by their own relatives in so-called "honor killings" after their release.

Eleven low-ranking U.S. soldiers were convicted and jailed for their roles in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the prison's commanding officer, was demoted. No other high-ranking military officer faced accountability for the abuse. Senior Bush administration officials—who had authorized many of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used at prisons including Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay—lied about their knowledge of the torture. None of them were ever held accountable.

Bush's successor, former President Barack Obama, promised to investigate—and if warranted, to prosecute—the Bush-era officials responsible for the torture that had become synonymous with the War on Terror. Instead, the Obama administration protected them from prosecution.

In 2013, L3 Technologies agreed to pay $5.28 million to 71 former Abu Ghraib detainees who were subjected to sexual assault and humiliation, rape threats, electrical shocks, mock executions, brutal beatings, and other abuse.

The following year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling prohibiting Abu Ghraib torture victims from suing U.S. companies implicated in their abuse. But the court later reversed itself, finding the case had sufficient ties to the United States to be heard in an American court. The suit was later dismissed under the political question doctrine, which prevents courts from ruling on issues determined to be essentially political.

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However, in 2016, a 4th Circuit panel ruled that "the political question doctrine does not shield from judicial review intentional acts by a government contractor that were unlawful at the time they were committed," allowing the Iraqis' case to proceed.

"This is a historic trial that we hope will deliver some measure of justice and healing for what President Bush rightly deemed disgraceful conduct that dishonored the United States and its values," CCR senior attorney Katherine Gallagher toldThe Guardian on Monday.

"In many ways, this case may be seen as setting a precedent for holding contractors accountable for human rights violations should they happen in other contexts, too," she added.

CACI—which denies any wrongdoing—has tried to get the case dismissed 20 times. The company still lands millions of dollars worth of U.S. government contracts. In February, Fortuneincluded the firm on its "World's Most Admired Companies" list for the seventh straight year.