A United States federal appeals court overturned a ruling by the US District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia and decided that victims of torture at Abu Ghraib may sue CACI Premier Technology, Inc.
The district court had ruled that the US Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Shell/Royal Dutch Petroleum had closed off any potential lawsuit by the four Iraqi civilians—foreign nationals, who say they were tortured and mistreated by both American civilian and military personnel while in detention.
The court believed the Alien Tort Statute, which traditionally has made it possible for foreign victims of human rights abuses to challenge officials and corporations, did not apply. But that case involved Nigerians, who were victims of human rights violations in Nigeria and the Supreme Court found that the abuses took place entirely outside the jurisdiction of the US.
In contrast, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals emphasized in their decision [PDF] that the Iraqis allege that they were subjected to torture by US citizens employed by an American corporation, which has its headquarters in Fairfax County, Virginia. “The alleged torture occurred at a military facility operated by United States government personnel.”
The appeals court further called attention to the fact that the alleged torturers were hired by CACI to fulfill a contract “executed” with the US Department of the Interior. CACI interrogators also obtained security clearances from the US Defense Department.
“The allegations are not confined to the assertion that CACI’s employees participated directly in acts of torture committed at the Abu Ghraib prison. The plaintiffs also allege that CACI’s managers located in the United States were aware of reports of misconduct abroad, attempted to ‘cover up’ the misconduct, and ‘implicitly, if not expressly, encouraged’ it,” the appeals court added.
Center for Constitutional Rights legal director Baher Azmy reacted, “Today’s court ruling affirms that U.S. corporations are not entitled to impunity for torture and war crimes and that holding U.S. entities accountable for human rights violations strengthens this country’s relationship to the international community and basic human rights principles.”
CCR filed the lawsuit against CACI contractors back in 2008. The four Iraqi civilians who say they experienced torture are: Suhail Najim Abdullah Al Shimari, Taha Yaseen Arraq Rashid, Salah Hasan Nusaif Al-Ejaili and Asa’ad Hamza Hanfoosh Al-Zuba’e.
Hasan is an Al Jazeera journalist. He appeared on “Democracy Now!” in May to describe what he had experienced at Abu Ghraib.
…I was helpless and could not object or not comply because, as military men, they had more power than me. They forced me. At the beginning, when they asked me to take off my clothes, I refused, of course, and told them, “I will not take my clothes off.” They said to me, “You either take them off yourself, or we will take them off for you.” Then I realized they are serious, so I started taking off some pieces like my pants and shirt, but they insisted that I strip completely. I told them it is impossible and I cannot take off all my clothes. They said, “You either take them off, or we will.” So I had to take off all my clothes, timidly, the hood on my head. I put my hand to cover my genitals, very embarrassed. These were very difficult moments. I transformed, in a second, from a journalist on the ground who has a social status and people look at me in a certain way—I have my familial and social values and status—to a humiliated person stripped down forcefully, very naked, helpless. This was a huge shock in these moments…
Hasan was detained by US soldiers, who he says knew he was a journalist. They claimed he had known in advance about a bombing attack, and, while he was at Abu Ghraib, he Americans in civilian clothes accused him and Al Jazeera of working with “terrorists.”
Al Shimari, who was detained at Abu Ghraib for two months, was “subjected to electric shocks, deprived of food, threatened by dogs, and kept naked while forced to engage in physical activities to the point of exhaustion,” according to CCR. Rashid was detained at Abu Ghraib for tree months and was placed in “stress positions for extended periods of time,” humiliated, deprived of oxygen, food and water, shot in the head with a taser gun and beaten so severely his limbs were broken and he suffered vision loss.
Rashid also says he was “forcibly subjected to sexual acts by a female as he was cuffed and shackled to cell bars.” He also was “forced to witness the rape of a female prisoner.”
Al-Zuba’e was detained at Abu Ghraib for a full year. He was subject to “extremely hot and cold water.” His genitals were beaten with a stick. He also was kept in a “solitary cell in conditions of sensory deprivation.”
Importantly, even the district court that dismissed the case recognized that the men’s claims of “torture, war crimes, and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment alleged sufficiently definite and universal violations of international law.”
The appeals court remanded the case to the district court and instructed the court to review the case again. Now, the Iraqi civilians will have another opportunity to try and achieve some accountability for what CACI contractors did to them.
Photo is a screen shot from CACI International, Inc.’s 2008 annual report, which can be found here.