Iraqis tortured and abused at the Abu Ghraib prison appealed the dismissal of their claims against contractors from CACI International, Inc.
Over the past seven years, the civil tort case has wound its way through federal courts, as it has been amended, appealed, dismissed and then re-instated.
Most recently, on June 24, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed the case after concluding the “political question doctrine” protected CACI contractors.
Zachery Morris of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has argued the lawsuit on behalf of the Iraqis who suffered torture, explained, “The political question doctrine arises out of the separation of powers, holding that courts are only able to decide legal questions, while purely political questions are the responsibility of other branches of government.”
Essentially, courts take the view that a military decision to “attack a particular target on the battlefield during wartime will likely be unreviewable by the courts because military logistics fall within the president’s domain, and because there are not clear judicial criteria (what the courts call “judicially manageable standards”) available to judge the wisdom or correctness of the military’s decision to strike.”
In dismissing the case on June 24, the court relied on a declaration by Col. Thomas Pappas, which CACI obtained. It found the U.S. military exercised “direct” control over how CACI contractors interrogated detainees at Abu Ghraib.
“The military clearly chose how to carry out tasks related to the interrogation mission, while CACI had no discretion in any operational matters,” the district court decided. “National defense interests are so closely intertwined with military decisions governing defendant’s conduct, such that a decision on the merits of the claim would require the judiciary to question actual, sensitive judgments made by the military, which the court is not permitted to do.”
But, in CCR’s appeal [PDF], attorneys for the Iraqis maintain “substantial evidence” was put forward to show the military had not controlled CACI interrogators outside of “required interrogations.” The district court did not apparently analyze or mention any of this evidence in its decision.
The district court presumed CACI “would likely defend against the allegations by asserting that their actions were ordered by the military.” This would mean the court would have “to consider whether military judgments were proper.”
CCR attorneys call attention to a ruling by the same district court on March 18, 2009, when a motion to dismiss claims under the “political question doctrine” filed by CACI was denied.
The district court argued the claims did not challenge the “government itself or the adequacy of official government policies, but the conduct of government contractors carrying on a business for profit.” It rejected the argument that claims arising from a “wartime context” were not “justiciable.”
Without explanation, the district court did an about-face and apparently changed its views.
Investigative reports by senior military commanders called attention to the “command vacuum at Abu Ghraib,” which led to a “lack of supervision of CACI interrogators.” This effectively enabled “sadistic, blatant, wanton criminal abuses.”
For example, Salah Al-Ejaili, one of the plaintiffs, was captured on November 3, 2003 because “he was a credentialed reporter for Al Jazeera.” He was not involved in any warfare against the U.S.
At what is known as the “Hard Site,” the lawsuit claims he was “subjected to repeated beatings, stripped and kept naked, imprisoned in a solitary cell in conditions of sensory deprivation, subjected to extremes of temperature, with both hot and cold water thrown on his naked body, placed in stress positions for extended periods of time, threatened with unleashed dogs, and deprived of food and sleep.”
Ejaili endured this torture and abuse until he was released about February 1, 2004.
There exists documentation, which shows CACI was responsible for supervising interrogators who engaged in torture and abuse. CACI maintained the discretion to “plan and execute interrogations and was required to evaluate and hire managers who had knowledge of intelligence gathering sufficient to independently supervise CACI interrogators.”
CACI interrogators conspired with U.S. military personnel, individuals like Charles Graner and Ivan Frederick III, who were both convicted by U.S. courts martial for their role in abusing detainees.
“Torture is not a political question, it is a legal question,” CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy declared. “What happened to our clients in this case was unambiguously unlawful under domestic, military and international human rights law.”
“The courts have an obligation to hear claims brought by victims of torture and not look the other way simply because the claims may be complicated. The obligation is even stronger when the abuses are carried out by a corporation – which made millions of dollars for its work in Abu Ghraib.”
“Although the case is taking a very long time, I am confident that the American judicial system will rule in my favor at the end,” stated Ejaili. “Then I will have received justice.”