Full En Banc Court of Appeals to Determine Whether Private Military Contractors May Assert “Battlefield” Immunity for Alleged Torture and Abuse
December 20, 2011, New York – Last night, attorneys for Iraqi torture victims abused in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and other detention centers in Iraq challenged two private military contractors’ claims to immunity from being sued on the grounds that their alleged torture occurred during wartime. Today, a coalition of groups, including retired military officers and human rights NGO’s and experts, supported their claims by filing amicus briefs that argue that for-profit corporations cannot be considered equivalent to U.S. soldiers and should face justice under traditional legal principles governing any illegal conduct.
Said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Katherine Gallagher, “Our plaintiffs – innocent Iraqi civilians – were subjected to horrifying acts of torture because these multi-billion-dollar corporations violated military policies and U.S. law prohibiting torture and other war crimes. We are in no way challenging battlefield conduct, but rather, our plaintiffs seek accountability for gratuitous and sadistic acts of violence by private companies in Iraq for profit.”
The lawsuits charge that the two U.S. corporations directed and participated in illegal conduct at Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq, including subjecting plaintiffs to electric shocks, sexual assaults, forced nudity, broken bones, and deprivation of oxygen, food and water. Originally filed in 2008, the two federal lawsuits, Al-Shimari v. CACI and Al-Quraishi v. Nakhla, were brought on behalf of 76 Iraqis who were subjected to abuse and torture in Iraq by employees of the corporations, CACI and L-3. In both cases, the district court ruled the claims could proceed to discovery. The two cases are now being consolidated for the Court of Appeals to assess whether corporate defendants can invoke the immunity available to the United States government and military in order to evade legal, moral and financial responsibility for their role in one of the most notorious episodes in recent American history. The corporations, which had been hired to provide interpretation and interrogation services, argue their actions are protected under the mantle of sovereign immunity and thus beyond review of the courts because they are “combatant military activities.” Court martial and other testimony from soldiers convicted of serious abuse in Iraq directly link both companies to instances of torture.
Said Shereef Akeel of Akeel & Valentine PLC, “A key principle is at stake here, which is that no one is above the law. It has been a 7 years struggle and these corporate defendants have not yet been held accountable for their involvement in the Abu-Gharib torture scandal.”
Support from Retired Military Officers
Also filed today were four amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs, including a brief by retired military officers expressing their concern, “that persons engaging in shocking behavior that the U.S. military does not itself tolerate for its own members have broad impunity from accountability.” Their brief also argues that, “[because] they are not subjected to the same standards of accountability as are members of the military, private contractors do not merit the immunity afforded to sovereign governmental entities.”
Said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy, “If these corporations cannot face accountability for their prominent role in the most notorious and damaging episodes in American history, we will have little to say to Iraqis and the rest of the world about the importance of the rule of law.”
The former detainees are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights; Susan L. Burke and Susan Sajadi of Burke PLLC, of Washington, D.C.; and Shereef Akeel, of Akeel & Valentine, PLC, of Troy, Michigan and Motley Rice LLC of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.
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The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.