Contractor Must Face Claims Over Abu Ghraib Abuse

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN)-  A U.S. defense contractor who allegedly oversaw torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq can’t rely on a recent Supreme Court ruling to dismiss abuse claims brought against them by former prisoners, a federal judge in Virginia said Monday.

Iraqi nationals Suhail Al Shimari, Salah Al-Ejaili and Asa’ad Al-Zuba’e were detained at the prison, which is located about 20 miles of Baghdad in 2003 and 2004. The jail was embroiled in scandal in 2004  after a CBS “60 Minutes II” report detailed extensive abuse of prisoners at the facility and broadcast photographs depicting that abuse and sexual humiliation at the hands of smiling U.S. soldiers.

In 2008, Al Shimari and the other prisoners sued CACI Premier Technology, a linguistic services company hired by the U.S. military during the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Under the Alien Tort Statute, the men claimed the contractor was directly liable for the abuse at Abu Ghraib but in February, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema disagreed.

Brinkema found the contractor was not directly liable for the alleged torture. While there were a “few connections” between CACI and the plaintiffs, they were not fully sufficient, she said.

Instead, CACI could be held liable for conspiracy to abuse the prisoners, the judge found.

According to Brinkema’s Febrary ruling “CACI interrogators explicitly instructed military police to ‘soften up’ detainees to prepare them for interrogation and that CACI interrogators ‘actually ordered’ the most severe forms of abuse.”

The contractor pushed back, arguing Brinkema did not have the jurisdiction to hear Al Shimari’s conspiracy claims thanks to decision issued by the Supreme Court in April, Jesner v. Arab Bank PLC.

Affirmed 5-4, in Jesner, the Supreme Court found foreign corporations may not be defendants in suits brought under the Alien Torture Statute, the very statute Al Shamiri used as the basis for his claims against CACI.

But Jesner doesn’t apply here, Brinkema wrote Monday.

Historically, the judge explained, the intent behind the Alien Tort Statute was that it could apply to situations where a foreign citizen was the victim of an international law being violated by an American national.

The idea behind the Alien Tort Statute, she continued, was that any failure to provide “adequate remedy to an aggrieved alien” could cause international tension with that alien’s country or even “lead that country to attempt to hold the U.S. or the American citizen responsible.”

Al Shamiri’s case differs from the findings in Jesner because here, the matter “involves foreign plaintiffs suing an American corporate defendant, which fully aligns with the original goals of the Alien Tort Statute: to provide a forum for tort suits by aliens against Americans for international law violations.”

The contractor is not foreign corporation so there is “no risk,” Brinkema said, of holding CACI responsible.

To do so wouldn’t “offend any foreign government,” she said.

And unlike Jesner, neither the U.S. nor any foreign government has expressed objection to the suit or filed an amicus brief expressing concern over the court’s jurisdiction.

After all, Brinkema wrote, the United States is currently named as co-defendant in the lawsuit but has abstained from filing a brief in support of CACI’s suggestion that the court lacks jurisdiction.

“This indicates the U.S. does not believe there are significant foreign-relations problems implicated by allowing plaintiff’s claims to proceed,” Brinkema said.

A representative of  CACI Premier Technology did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.


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