Retired Senior Military Officers, Rights Groups File Amicus Briefs Asking Supreme Court to Hear Abu Ghraib Torture Case

May 28, 2010, Washington, D.C. – Today, three amicus curiae or friend-of-the-court briefs were filed in the Supreme Court, in support of  CCR’s petition for certiorari in its case against CACI and L-3 Services (formerly Titan), two corporations whose employees are alleged to have participated in the infamous torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. One brief, submitted by retired high-ranking military officers, argues that private military contractors are not the equivalent of U.S. soldiers and cannot be considered “combatants” because they are not fully incorporated into the armed forces or subject to a military chain of command. The Counsel of Record for the retired military brief is John J. Gibbons, former Chief Judge of the Third Circuit, who served in the U.S. Navy in WWII, and signatories to the brief include: David M. Brahms, retired Brigadier General; James P. Cullen, retired Brigadier General and former Chief Judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals; Rear Admiral Donald J. Guter, former Navy’s Judge Advocate General; and Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, also a former Navy’s Judge Advocate General.  In a 2-1 decision rendered in September 2009, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed the claims against CACI and L-3, finding that the private contractors were entitled to immunity from suit through “battlefield preemption.”

Another brief was filed by Professors of Federal Courts, International Law, and U.S. Foreign Relations Law, stating that there is no basis for immunity or a pre-emption defense for the federal claims, including war crimes, under the Alien Tort Statute. The third brief, filed on behalf of human rights organizations including Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights and the Center for Victims of Torture, as well as international law scholars, highlights the need for redress for torture victims and the protections that should be afforded to detainees under international human rights and humanitarian law.

Notably, the retired military officials brief reads: “Membership in the U.S. Armed Forces carries with it significant privileges but also heavy obligations, foremost among them being respect for the law of war and for the military chain of command. These cornerstones of the modern American Armed Forces reflect a culture and tradition that demands rigorous training, discipline and accountability. But private military contractors, by contrast, are no more than corporate entities, whose activities are governed only by contractual relationships with the military and who are primarily accountable to private shareholders. 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, now provided to them by the decision of the court of appeals.”

“The amicus briefs filed today demonstrate why the Supreme Court must review the decision taken by the court of appeals against the individuals tortured at Abu Ghraib,” said Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) attorney Katherine Gallagher. “The lower court’s result not only places the United States on the wrong side of international human rights law, but it runs counter to the views of experienced military leaders on how best to ensure that our obligations regarding humane treatment of detainees are met, and what the nature of the relationship is between U.S. military personnel and private military contractors hired to assist them.”

Last month, CCR and co-counsel argued in their petition for certiorari that the Supreme Court should hear the case because the Court of Appeals decision of September 11, 2009, gave corporate government contractors more protections than even U.S. soldiers enjoy, and constituted judicial overreaching. In that decision, a majority of the panel effectively immunized contractors for torture and other serious mistreatment of Iraqi detainees because of the integration it found of contractors into the military’s operational mission and chain of command. The legal team argued that the military’s own investigations had found CACI and L-3 employees participated in the torture, humiliation and dehumanization of the Iraqi civilians detained at Abu Ghraib. The legal team further argued that corporations could be held liable for war crimes, including torture, under international law.

Saleh v. Titan, first filed in 2004, is a federal lawsuit brought by more than 250 former Iraqi prisoners against private contractors CACI and L-3 Services that alleges the companies’ employees participated in  torture and serious abuses while they were hired to provide interrogation and interpretation services, respectively, at Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities in Iraq.

The suit charges defendants with torture and other war crimes, as well as common law torts including sexual assault and battery, and negligent hiring and supervision. The acts to which the plaintiffs alleged they were subjected at the hands of the defendants and certain government co-conspirators include: rape and threats of rape and other forms of sexual assault; being forced to watch a family member tortured and abused so badly that he died; repeated beatings, including beatings with chains, boots and other objects; forced nudity; hooding; being detained in isolation; being urinated on and otherwise humiliated.

The victims are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, and law firms Burke PLLC, Motley Rice LLC, Akeel & Valentine, P.C , The Law Firm of L. Palmer Foret, P.C. and  Edmond Jones Lindsay, LLP.

Download copies of the amici curiae briefs below or visit the Saleh et al v. Titan et al case page for more information.



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


Last modified 

May 28, 2010