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Abu Ghraib torture lawsuit against multi-billion-dollar U.S. Army contractor at last headed for trial

abu ghraib
This image of Abu Ghraib prisoner Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh being tortured became infamous across the world. He was told if he moved or fell off the block he would be electrocuted. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema

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.

U.S. Army soldiers Sabrina Harman poses for a photo behind naked Iraqi detainees forced to form a human pyramid, while Charles Graner watches. Both were court-martialed and found guilty of abusing prisoners. Harman received a bad conduct discharge. Graner was dishonorably discharged. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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.”  

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Latest comments

  • Ron DeSantis was an Navy attorney at Guantanamo. Did he have any role in overseeing the torture of Guantanamo prisoners?

  • Horrors at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons happen when we allow ourselves to be led into wars based on fear instead of facts. As our nation was still reeling from 9/11, it was not difficult for our government to lead its populace and allies into wars without thoroughly investigating the attacks. Afghanistan was easy; it came directly on the heels of 9/11; the Bush Administration told us that Osama bin Laden was responsible, the nation of Afghanistan had harbored him, and war commenced in October of 2001. From there, we had the notorious scandal of prison torture by the CIA at Guantanamo Bay in 2002 – the present, even though many were mistakenly detained.
    With the war in Iraq, who could forget, that General/Secretary Colin Powell holding up that vial filled with a white substance, indicating that Saddam Hussein was directly threatening us with the use of “weapons of mass destruction,” meaning possibly nuclear biological, or use of chemical weapons. Further, the Bush Administration conflated Iraq with having ties to the terrorist groups that attacked the U.S. on 9/11. And so, we went to war with Iraq in March 2003. And as this article reminds us, we continue to deal with the realities of the massive U.S. torture programs instituted in Abu Ghraib from 2003-2005, many of whom were mistakenly detained, according to the Red Cross.
    The 9/11 Commission Report, as incomplete and skewed as it was, did indicate that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented if not for the failures of the CIA and FBI. Moreover, only eight men held at Guantanamo have ever been convicted, and four of those convictions have since been reversed. So, we didn’t need to go to war in Afghanistan. We did not need to go to war in Iraq as there were no weapons of mass destruction, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had indicated early on, and Iraq had nothing to do with Iraq. Thus, we did not need to go to two wars or torture anyone; we just needed our national security agencies to do their jobs and believe other international agencies that consistently did their jobs well before 9/11 and going into Iraq.
    Most importantly, we do not own up to anything as a nation when President Bush says that “a few bad apples” were to blame for abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib or President Obama said in 2013, “We tortured some folks.” These familiar and off-handed remarks only diminish the war crimes committed at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, as do the notably low-level punishments and dishonorable discharges dished out to a few low-level soldiers while rewarding individuals like CIA Director George with the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award.
    Ultimately, we must stop all the unnecessary wars, the torture, and the deaths of thousands of soldiers and millions of citizens worldwide, the impoverishing of nations, the rescinding of privacy rights, the environmental degradation, lost finances, and lost self-respect.
    And so much more – we must hold our “leaders” to account long before they drag us into these wars; we must be forever vigilant as citizens of the world.

  • Oops, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

  • Torture tactics used inside the Khaim prison in Lebanon was eerily similar

  • Re the question about Ron DeSantis. There’s the Guardian report: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/apr/28/ron-desantis-guantanamo-bay-allegations
    And the Daily Beast expose re the Showtime Documentary that mysteriously got pulled: https://www.thedailybeast.com/inside-the-ron-desantis-guantanamo-bay-doc-that-showtime-didnt-want-you-to-see
    Apologies Bulldog

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