By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Twenty years after the U.S. invaded and occupied Iraq in the wake of 9/11, a lawsuit against a company that provided “interrogator services” for the U.S. Army at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison finally seems headed to trial.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia, in a little-noticed order on July 31, denied defendant CACI Premier Technology Inc.’s motions to dismiss the case.
The lawsuit was brought by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in 2008 on behalf of three former Abu Ghraib detainees, all Iraqis, who contend they were wrongly imprisoned and tortured in 2003-2004. They were eventually released without any criminal charge filed against them.
The suit contends that CACI conspired with and aided and abetted U.S. military personnel in subjecting the plaintiffs to illegal conduct, including war crimes and torture. U.S. military investigators concluded years ago that CACI interrogators conspired with U.S. soldiers to “soften up” imprisoned Iraqis.
A U.S. Army investigation referred to the shocking treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib, near Baghdad, as “sadistic, blatant, and wanton.” Several low-level military officers were court-martialed for their roles in the torture, but CACI has gone unpunished, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.
BILLIONS IN GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS
Likewise, CACI continues to collect billions of dollars in government contracts. For example, on Thursday CACI announced that the National Security Agency had awarded the company a $2.7 billion contract to provide intelligence analysis.
Shares of Reston, VA-based CACI International, with a market capitalization of more than $8 billion, are publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: CACI). The company generates more than $6 billion in annual revenue, according to MarketBeat.
A CACI spokeswoman could not be reached for comment. But CACI has repeatedly insisted it is not liable for the torture.
According to a CCR press release, CACI has sought to have the case dismissed 18 times, being rebuffed four times by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit as well as by the Supreme Court. For its latest challenges, CACI invoked the Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in Doe v. Nestle, which addressed the scope of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), and three unrelated Supreme Court cases issued in 2022 as a basis for dismissal, the press release says.
In a 2018 ruling, the district court held that the treatment alleged by the men at Abu Ghraib constituted torture, war crimes, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. The ATS gives U.S. federal courts jurisdiction over civil actions brought by foreign nationals alleging violations of international law.
ORDER TEMPORARILY SEALED
Judge Brinkema’s “ruling has cleared the way, almost 20 years hence, for our clients to tell their story in open court,” said Center for Constitutional Rights legal director Baher Azmy.
Brinkema temporarily sealed her order because it cites from “sealed material” in the case. She told the parties to meet within seven days to notify the court of what parts of her order must be redacted. “Redactions must be minimal given the public’s right to access court opinions, and unjustified redactions will be rejected,” she wrote.
The three plaintiffs seeking unspecified damages are Suhail Al Shimari, Asa’ad Al Zuba’e and Salah Al-Ejaili.
Al-Shimari, a farmer, was held at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere for more than four years. He was caged, threatened with dogs, and subjected to beatings and electrical shocks, and threatened with death and being sent to a “far away” place, according to CCR.
Salah Al-Ejaili lives in Sweden with his wife and three children and has worked as a reporter for Al Jazeera news network, according to CCR. In November 2003, Al-Ejaili was working with Al Jazeera when he traveled to Iraq’s Diyala province to report on an explosion. He was detained by U.S. military personnel and five days later transferred to Abu Ghraib for about six weeks where he was allegedly subjected to a campaign of mental and physical torture and other serious mistreatment.
“Torture took different forms, including undressing, being caged like animals, using dogs for intimidation, banning food and drinks, hand and foot cuffing, physical humiliation, sexual harassment and many others. My body was like a machine, responding to all external orders,” Al-Ejaili told CCR. “The only part I owned was my brain, which could not be stopped by the black plastic bag they used to cover my head. The most important question to which I could find no answer at the time is: what is all this for?”
After being told of Judge Brinkema’s ruling, Al-Ejaili told CCR, “I am so happy to receive the news that our case can proceed toward trial.I have stayed patient and hopeful during the two years we have waited for this decision – and throughout the nearly two decades since I was abused at Abu Ghraib – that one day I would achieve justice and accountability in a U.S. court. Today, brings me and the other plaintiffs one step closer.”