Monday's decision from a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals found that it did not have jurisdiction to decide the case because Caterpillar's bulldozers were ultimately paid for with money from the United States. Because of the U.S. government's decision to grant military assistance to Israel, any decision regarding whether Caterpillar aided and abetted war crimes would impermissibly intrude upon the executive branch's foreign policy decisions. In today's decision, the Court did not rule on the question of whether Caterpillar aided and abetted Israeli war crimes.
"We are extremely disappointed with the Court's refusal to decide whether Caterpillar violated the law, essentially because it did not want to question the U.S. decision to pay for the bulldozers," said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood. "The Court has a constitutional duty to uphold the law, and the law prohibits aiding and abetting war crimes - regardless of who's footing the bill."
The case, Corrie, et al. v. Caterpillar Inc. was brought by the parents of Rachel Corrie and four Palestinian families whose family members were killed or injured when Caterpillar bulldozers demolished their homes. Corrie, a 23-year-old American peace activist and student at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, was killed March 16, 2003, in the Gaza Strip by a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer while protecting a home from illegal demolition.
"For our family, the court proceedings were trying to bring some accountability for Caterpillar�s role in human rights violations," said Craig Corrie, father of Rachel Corrie. "Of course, Caterpillar always has the option to act responsibly and could do that by ceasing to provide Israel these bulldozers no matter how they are financed. I call on Caterpillar management to decide that that's not how Caterpillar wants to make money."
Added Cindy Corrie, mother of Rachel Corrie, "On behalf of Rachel and Palestinians killed in home demolitions by Caterpillar bulldozers, including three children under 9 years old, a disabled man, and an elderly man, we are extremely disappointed with this decision, and I will continue to seek justice and accountability for all of them."
Caterpillar provided the D9 bulldozers to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), knowing they would be used to unlawfully destroy civilian homes. Since the year 2000, the IDF has used Caterpillar bulldozers to destroy more than 4,000 Palestinian homes, leaving thousands of individuals homeless in the process. The Caterpillar D9 bulldozer is over 13 feet tall and 26 feet wide, weighs more than 60 tons with its armored plating, and can raze houses in a matter of minutes.
Much of the world community, including the United Nations and international human rights organizations, has consistently condemned these demolitions as a clear violation of international humanitarian law. For years, Caterpillar has had notice that the IDF was using its D9 bulldozers for human rights violations; despite this, the company has continued to provide them to the Israeli government.
"It is important to note that the Court did not reach the substantive questions about Caterpillar's role in aiding and abetting violations of international law,"said Gwynne Skinner, Visiting Clinical Professor at Seattle University Law School, who, along with CCR, also represents the Corrie family. "However, with regard to the Court's view that it lacks jurisdiction to decide the case, we are reviewing the decision carefully and will decide how to proceed."
The case, which was filed in March 2005, was dismissed by Judge Franklin D. Burgess in the Western District of Washington in November 2005. In July 2007, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on whether the case should proceed.
The plaintiffs are represented by the International Human Rights Clinic at Seattle University School of Law, the Seattle-based Public Interest Law Group, PLLC, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.
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.