Nearly 20 years after torture scandal broke, Iraqis continue fight for justice; 15-year quest for day in court one step closer to trial
August 1, 2023, Alexandria, VA – A federal judge has rejected the latest attempts by CACI Premier Technology, Inc. to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Iraqis who endured torture at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison during the U.S. government’s occupation of Iraq. In a lawsuit filed on their behalf by the Center for Constitutional Rights in June 2008, Suhail Al Shimari, Asa’ad Al Zuba’e, and Salah Al-Ejaili are seeking damages from the Virginia-based company, which the U.S. government hired to provide interrogation services at Abu Ghraib.
“I am so happy to receive the news that our case can proceed toward trial,” said plaintiff Salah Al-Ejaili. “I have stayed patient and hopeful during the two years we have waited for this decision – and throughout the nearly two decades since I was abused at Abu Ghraib – that one day I would achieve justice and accountability in a U.S. court. Today, brings me and the other plaintiffs one step closer.”
The lawsuit asserts that CACI conspired with and aided and abetted U.S. military personnel in subjecting the plaintiffs to illegal conduct, including war crimes and torture, at Abu Ghraib. U.S. military investigators long ago concluded that CACI interrogators conspired with U.S. soldiers to “soften up” imprisoned Iraqis. A U.S. Army general referred to the treatment as “sadistic, blatant, and wanton.” A number of low-level military officers were court-martialed for their roles in the torture, but CACI has gone unpunished and continues to reap millions of dollars in government contracts.
CACI has repeatedly insisted it is not liable for the torture it helped inflict on Iraqis. In fact, it has sought to have the case dismissed an astonishing 18 times, being rebuffed four times by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit as well as by the Supreme Court. For its latest challenges, CACI invoked the Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in Doe v. Nestle, which addressed the scope of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), and three unrelated Supreme Court cases issued in 2022 as a basis for dismissal.
In a 2018 ruling, the district court held that the treatment alleged by the men at Abu Ghraib constituted torture, war crimes, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, actionable under the ATS. The ATS gives U.S. federal courts jurisdiction over civil actions brought by foreign nationals alleging violations of international law.
In recent years, the Supreme Court has narrowed the ATS three times, most recently in Nestle. Plaintiffs had argued that CACI overstated the impact of that decision and that this case, brought against a U.S. corporation operating under contract with the U.S. government to provide services in a U.S.-run detention center in an Iraq under a U.S.-led coalition occupation, with substantial relevant conduct – from the hiring to promotion to cover-up – by Virginia-based CACI personnel, meets the Supreme Court’s requirements for ATS claims. In yesterday’s ruling, Judge Leonie Brinkema agreed and found that CACI may still be held liable under the law. The court’s full opinion is not yet public, pending the parties’ review of material that had been filed under seal.
“This most recent decision affirms that the human rights norms vindicated by the Alien Tort Statute remain vital and are available to address a case revealing substantial evidence identified by the court that CACI facilitated and promoted the torture and abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib; the ruling has cleared the way, almost 20 years hence, for our clients to tell their story in open court,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy.
Judge Brinkema has called for the parties to submit status reports concerning pretrial issues that need to be resolved and set a status conference for September 8th in Alexandria, Virginia.
This case is the last remaining lawsuit brought against U.S. military contractors for their role in the Abu Ghraib torture. Its survival for 15 years alone is a notable achievement, and victory for the plaintiffs would be a landmark legal development and a step toward achieving a measure of justice and accountability for one of the most notorious events in recent U.S. history.
Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LP, and Shereef Akeel & Valentine, P.C. in Troy, Michigan, are co-counsel on the case.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights case page.
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.