The Obama Administration: on the Wrong Side of Torture . . . Again
The Obama administration has just recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court not hear a case brought by torture victims of Abu Ghraib and other detention centers in Iraq – a recommendation that leaves the Iraqi torture victims without any redress or accountability for those responsible for their torture. Through their case, Saleh v. Titan, these Iraqi civilians, many of whom still suffer from the effects of the physical and psychological harm done to them, seek to hold the two U.S. corporations implicated in their torture – CACI International and L-3 Services (formerly Titan Corporation) – accountable in a U.S. courthouse, and have their case heard by an American jury. These two corporations – military
contractors – provided translation and interrogation services in the detention centers where some of the most notorious acts of torture are known to have taken place. Investigations into the torture – including investigations by the military itself – have concluded that contractors from CACI and L-3 were involved in “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses.” The acts of torture at issue in this case include severe beatings, electrocution, threatening detainees with dogs, food and sleep deprivation, shackling in painful positions for hours, confining detainees in coffin-sized boxes, urinating on them, exposing them to extreme heat and cold, forcing them to watch the beating and rape of other prisoners, including their family members, threatening them with rape and execution, and raping and otherwise sexually assaulting and humiliating them.
Saleh v. Titan, brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and private attorneys on behalf of the Iraqi torture victims, has been winding its way through U.S. courts since 2004. The legal team argued that the Supreme Court should hear the case because a 2009 decision by an appellate court gave corporate contractors more protections than U.S. soldiers enjoy and constituted judicial overreaching. A group of retired military officers filed an amicus brief in support of the torture victims, and urged the Supreme Court to hear the case because they were “deeply concerned about the rule emerging from this case: that persons engaging in shocking behavior that the U.S. military does not itself tolerate for its own members have broad impunity from accountability.”
At a time when the administration is rapidly increasing the presence of private military contractors in Iraq as they continue to draw down the troops, the lack of any justice for the multitude of serious human rights violations – including war crimes and torture – committed by contractors in Iraq is nothing short of outrageous. The acts committed at Abu Ghraib have been widely condemned and caused great outrage in the United States and around the world. The Department of Justice has failed to prosecute any of the contractors alleged to have been involved in the torture of detainees. And, so far, civil cases such as Saleh v. Titan have not succeeded in securing a day in court, let alone compensation, for the victims.
Although the Obama administration recognized that there were serious flaws in the appellate court’s reasoning for dismissing the case, it argues that the Supreme Court should not use its limited time and resources on reviewing the dismissal of the Abu Ghraib case. In so doing, the Obama administration has effectively turned its back on the Iraqi civilians who were so mercilessly tortured in American detention centers by American soldiers and American contractors. At the same time, it has not pursued criminal charges against the vast majority of contractors accused of human rights abuses, including CACI and L-3 Services/Titan. Nor has it closed the many legal loopholes that add up to impunity for private military contractors. Congress’ own Commission on Wartime Contracting noted in a February 2011 report that “enforcement policies and controls fail to ensure contractor accountability” and that “the United States has come to over-rely on contractors.” Yet the U.S. government continues to contract out more and more functions formerly performed by troops to private corporations. The Obama administration has no plan in place for how past or future human rights violations by contractors will be handled, and instead undermines efforts by survivors of these violations to seek judicial review.
The Supreme Court can still grant the torture victims’ petition, and hear their case. In the coming months, we will know whether seven years after the torture survivors began their quest for justice and accountability, they will finally have their day in court – despite efforts by the Obama administration to keep them out.
Laura Raymond is an International Human Rights Associate at the Center for Constitutional Rights.