Factsheet: Torture at Abu Ghraib and Al Shimari v. CACI

The Invasion of Iraq & Torture and Abuse at Abu Ghraib 

In March 2003, the United States unlawfully invaded Iraq using a false claim that Iraq had developed “weapons of mass destruction” to justify the full-scale invasion. Measures taken by the Bush/Cheney administration before and after the invasion led to the complete political destabilization of Iraq, and a U.S.-established governing body formed in its wake. The incalculable human toll of the Iraq war continues to grow: hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced, environmental devastation, chronic, generational medical conditions, countless people tortured, traumatized, or otherwise harmed in ways unseen, and an entire generation raised with endless war. 

Soon after the occupation and the ensuing insurgency, the U.S. began a mass round-up of Iraqi civilians — the vast majority of whom were never charged with any crime — and set up a prison system around the country. Abu Ghraib, a notorious prison outside of Baghdad previously used by Saddam Hussein’s regime to deploy torture and cruel treatment, was opened as a key detention site to hold Iraqi men, women, and children. Inside that sprawling detention center was a two-floor concrete prison — the “hard site” — where Iraqis were detained, interrogated, and, ultimately, tortured. 

In April 2004, news outlets broke the story of the torture of Iraqi prisoners detained by the U.S. at Abu Ghraib, releasing photographs and video showing naked, hooded detainees posed in human pyramids, prisoners on leashes, and widespread sexual assault — images so horrifying, they are burned into the conscience of a generation. The revelations drew demands for accountability and redress from around the world. Subsequent military investigations led to the court-martial of a small number of low-level U.S. soldiers as well as documentation of the role played in the torture at Abu Ghraib by private military contractors from two U.S. corporations: Titan Corporation (later known as L-3 Services and Engility Corporation) and CACI Premier Technology, Inc. 

The invasion of Iraq, and the torture inflicted at Abu Ghraib, did not happen in a vacuum.  Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration declared a global “War on Terror.” This deliberate manufacturing of a foreign enemy who holds ‘dangerous’ ideological beliefs led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, a massive increase in anti-Arab, anti-Muslim hatred, and a variety of discriminatory policies and practices targeting African, Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities at home and abroad. It was also used to justify increased U.S. militarism across the globe, beginning with the invasion of Afghanistan, and, later, Iraq.

Case Background

Al Shimari v. CACI Premier Technology, Inc. is a federal lawsuit brought on behalf of three Iraqi torture victims against U.S.-based government contractor CACI Premier Technology, Inc. The lawsuit alleges that CACI participated in a conspiracy to commit unlawful conduct including torture and war crimes at Abu Ghraib prison, where it was hired by the U.S. to provide interrogation services. The plaintiffs, Suhail Al Shimari, Asa’ad Zuba’e, and Salah Al-Ejaili, were all held at the “hard site,” an area of the Abu Ghraib prison where the most severe techniques were used in 2003-2004. 

The case is brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and filed in the Eastern District of Virginia, where CACI is headquartered. This U.S. law from 1789 allows non-citizens who have been subjected to well-established violations of international law, such as torture and cruel treatment, to bring a case in U.S. federal court, including against a U.S. corporation, when there is a sufficient connection to the United States. The lawsuit alleges that CACI is liable for conspiracy to commit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, torture, and war crimes, and for aiding and abetting these acts. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages. 

Since the case was filed in 2008, CACI has tried to dismiss it more than 20 times, invoking a range of legal defenses and immunities that argue at the core that CACI should not be held liable for conduct — even if unlawful — done in Iraq, while working under contract with the United States. This case has gone on appeal to the Fourth Circuit five times, and, after it failed to have the case dismissed, CACI sought a Supreme Court review — which was denied. The Supreme Court has three times narrowed the scope of the Alien Tort Statute since this lawsuit was filed. But the case has survived: in 2018, Judge Leonie Brinkema found that plaintiffs have sufficiently pled — and had evidence to support — their claims and that the case should proceed to a trial for a U.S. jury to decide the merits, and reaffirmed this decision after the Supreme Court’s Nestle ATS decision. The case is finally set for trial on April 15, 2024.

CACI’s Role in Torture and Serious Mistreatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib

CACI’s role in the torture and serious mistreatment of Iraqi civilians at Abu Ghraib is well documented. Army Major General Taguba investigated allegations of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, and his 2004 report concluded that between October and December 2003, “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses were inflicted on several detainees,” and that military intelligence and CACI interrogators instructed military police (MPs) to “set the conditions” for detainees’ interrogations. MPs have testified that it was understood amongst CACI interrogators and soldiers that “softening up” and “special treatment” equated to serious physical and mental harm to detainees

The Fay/Jones military report, released in August 2004, concluded that military police, medical soldiers, and civilian contractors had some degree of responsibility or complicity in the abuses at Abu Ghraib; at least three CACI employees were cited in the report for abusive behavior. Evidence obtained through this litigation, such as e-mails, court-martial records, and deposition testimony, shows not only the role of CACI contractors in abuse, but that  CACI refused to act on specific reports of misconduct perpetuated by its employees, and instead covered it up. Despite CACI’s claims to the contrary, there is credible evidence that it aided or abetted or otherwise contributed to a conspiracy to torture and abuse the three plaintiffs as a matter of U.S. and international law.

It is rare for foreign victims to be able to bring their claims against U.S. corporations all the way through to trial, which is why, more than twenty years after 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, this is the first lawsuit where victims of U.S. torture and cruel treatment will have a trial in a U.S. courtroom. The plaintiffs, Salah, Asa’ad, and Suhail, have spent 16 years fighting for justice in a U.S. court, and they now have the chance to tell the story of what happened to them in hopes of some accountability.

Accountability for Torture by Private Military Contractors

Over the last two decades, private companies have made billions by providing vast services in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the surrounding region, ranging from security escorts for government officials to intelligence gathering and analysis to logistical support. The post-9/11 wars have been the most outsourced in United States history. Currently, there is no sufficient contractor accountability and oversight system in place. While the U.S. Department of Justice has responsibility for investigating and prosecuting international crimes by contractors, it has been rare for DOJ to bring any charges against contractors, and none have been brought for torture or war crimes. To read more on the Center for Constitutional Rights’ prior cases against private military contractors, see Al-Quraishi v. L-3 & Nakhla, Saleh v .Titan, and Abtan v. Blackwater/Prince

Last modified 

April 4, 2024