Abu Ghraib Torture Case in Court: Human Rights Attorneys Press for Accountability

May 12, 2016, Richmond, VA – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights is arguing that the well-established torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and a private military contractor’s role in that torture is not a question best left to the political branches, as a lower court ruled in June. CCR is urging a panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate a lawsuit filed against CACI Premier Technology, Inc. (CACI) for the company’s role in the torture and other abuse of four Iraqi men at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison’s so-called “hard site.”

U.S. military investigators long ago concluded that several CACI interrogators conspired with U.S. soldiers, who were later court martialed, to “soften” detainees for interrogations, and that this contributed to “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses.” Last June, a lower court dismissed the case, ruling that CACI’s responsibility for its confirmed role in the torture is a “political question” unreviewable by the courts and that a “cloud of ambiguity” surrounds the definition of torture. Because what occurred at the prison was unambiguously unlawful under domestic, military, and international human rights law, CCR attorneys say, the courts have an obligation to hear claims brought by victims of torture. 

“There is nothing ambiguous about torture. It is clearly defined – and clearly unlawful – under domestic, military, and international human rights law,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy, who argued today. “Given the worrying resurgence of Bush-era torture-speak, it is imperative that courts show that they will not treat torture with impunity.”

CCR lawyers say the lower court’s ruling is essentially a return to the widely discredited Bush-era legal theories of Torture Memo author John Yoo. At Abu Ghraib, the plaintiffs in the case were subjected to electric shocks, sexual violence, forced nudity, broken bones, and deprivation of oxygen, food, and water. 

“Although this is the fourth time our case has had to go to the Court of Appeals, I trust the American judicial system and I believe that I will achieve justice in the end,” said plaintiff Salah Al-Ejaili. “We will have our day in court and the story of Abu Ghraib will be told by me and other men who lived – and – survived it.”

The case was filed in June 2008 under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which allows non-U.S. citizens to sue for human rights violations committed abroad. Today’s argument is the fourth time the case, Al Shimari v. CACI International, Inc., has been before the court of appeals, including once before the full appellate court. In 2014, the Fourth Circuit overturned a lower-court ruling that would have barred the Abu Ghraib survivors from accessing U.S. courts to sue U.S. corporations involved in torture. The Fourth Circuit reversed, determining that the case sufficiently “touch[es] and concern[s]” the United States “with sufficient force” to overcome the “presumption against extraterritorial application” of the ATS recognized by the Supreme Court in 2013.

For more information on the case, visit CCR’s Al Shimari v. CACI International, Inc. case page.


Jeena Shah of the International Human Rights Clinic at Rutgers Law School-Newark, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LP and Shereef Akeel & Valentine, P.C. in Troy, Michigan are co-counsel on the case.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.


Last modified 

May 12, 2016