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Judge: Iraqis Sufficiently Allege Torture By Military Contractor And May Proceed With Lawsuit

A federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought against CACI Premier Technology for its alleged involvement in Iraqi torture at the Abu Ghraib prison.

“CACI personnel substantially aided the military personnel responsible for directly carrying out the abuses, including directing them on how to set the conditions of confinement, ordering them to employ various abusive tactics, and helping them conceal the abuses,” Judge Leonie Brinkema stated [PDF].

“Moreover, upper-level management at CACI substantially aided these continued abuses by refusing to inform the military of reports that CACI and military personnel were abusing detainees and by continuing to employ—and even promote—interrogators engaging in the abuses.”

“Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that CACI’s and its employees’ actions to aid the abuses were undertaken with the necessary purpose of facilitating the abusive conduct because the goal of the abusive regime was to ‘soften up’ the detainees to convince them to cooperate with CACI’s interrogators,” Brinkema additionally contended.

Brinkema declared, “It is clear that the abuse suffered by plaintiffs was intended to inflict severe pain or suffering and rises to the level of torture.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit against CACI in 2008 on behalf of four Iraqis, who say they were tortured: Suhail Najim Abdullah al-Shimari, Salah Hasan Nusaif al-Ejaili, and Asa’ad Hamza Hanfoosh al-Zuba’e.

It was filed under the Alien Tort Statute, which traditionally has made it possible for foreign victims to challenge officials and corporations responsible for human rights abuses.

The alleged torture took place at a part of Abu Ghraib known as the “Hard Site,” which was a “relatively small section of the complex controlled by American military forces that housed detainees who were suspected to be of ‘military intelligence value.'”

As described in the decision, al-Ejaili, who was a reporter for Al-Jazeera, was held at Abu Ghraib for about six weeks. When he arrived, he was forced to strip naked and put a bag on his head as personnel shouted at him to confess.

The first night al-Ejaili was put in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffed to a pole with a bag over his head. He says he vomited a “black substance.” A woman came in during the night and touched him and pulled at his hair. He was ordered to clean up the vomit with his jumpsuit and then taken to a cell. After he tried to clean it, he complained that he was cold and had nothing to wear. A guard handed him ladies underwear.

Al-Ejaili was interrogated at least ten time, two or three times a day. “Each time, he was stripped naked, had a bag placed over his head, and was taken to an interrogation room. During the interrogations, he was often handcuffed to a pipe in the room and was beaten, punched, kicked, and slapped on the head. The interrogators also sometimes doused him with hot water, hot tea, or cold water.”

In addition to this abuse, he was subjected to sleep deprivation, with food and water denied if he did not follow this regime. He was chained naked to the wall, bed, or bars of his cell. Repeatedly, he was put in stress positions. At one point, dogs were brought very close to his face to terrorize him.

That is what one of the four Iraqis allege against CACI, which was involved in directing torture and abuse by military personnel.

Al-Zuba’e said he had soap rubbed into his eyes and was forced into a cold shower, where he became so cold that he could no longer stand and fell to the ground. He was dragged from the bathroom to the first floor and awoke to “guards hitting him.” He was forced to crawl around in the hallway while they beat him “until his chest bled.” A dog was then brought into the hallway to bit Al-Zuba’e’s hand and legs.

In later interrogations, when Al-Zuba’e could not answer questions the way personnel wanted, he was thrown against a wall.

Al-Shimari, a farmer, was “forced to kneel on sharp stones” and “punched all over his face,” after he was brought to Abu Ghraib. The sharp rocks made it so he cannot stand for “extended periods of time” anymore.

One guard stepped on Al-Shimari’s stomach, back, legs, and head. The following day, he was forced by an interrogator to stand on his toes with his nose against the wall. A guard was ordered to throw Al-Shimari against the wall. He was later beaten by the guard on his head and face while his hands were tied behind his back.

For forty days, the mistreatment occurred regularly. Guards threatened him with dogs. Loud music was played to torture him. He was doused with water. Guards connected him to electric equipment called a “lie detector” and shocked him. They tied a rope around his neck to drag him around. Guards inserted fingers in his rectum and even beat him in his genitals. He can no longer have children.

Brinkema found the Iraqi torture survivors sufficiently alleged cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, as well as war crimes. All of the conduct is in violation of international law, and so the survivors have valid claims under the Alien Tort Statute.

While Brinkema dismissed charges related to direct liability, she decided there was a clear basis for the conspiracy claims. Factual allegations establish plausibility that “CACI employees and military personnel entered into an agreement to torture detainees.”

CCR legal director Baher Azmy reacted, “The decision is a historic judicial rebuke to the Bush administration’s torture paradigm, which had sought to evade the well-established prohibitions against torture, and is one of the clearest statements in the post-9/11 era that victims of torture and grave human rights abuses can access the courts for a remedy.”

“The court confirmed what was plain to the eye: that the horrific treatment our clients endured at Abu Ghraib was unlawful and that, in a country operating under the rule of law, those responsible can be held accountable.”

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."