U.S. Courts Can Hear Cases of Torture at Abu Ghraib, Experts Argue

November 6, 2013, Richmond, VA – Today, in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel on behalf of four Iraqi men who were tortured at Abu Ghraib, six amici parties urged the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the case, which was dismissed by the district court in June. Plaintiffs in the case, Al Shimari v. CACI International Inc., brought claims including torture and war crimes under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) against private contractor CACI Premier Technology, Inc. (“CACI”), which U.S. military investigators concluded participated in torture, the “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. In dismissing the torture victims’ claims, the district judge did not suggest that the plaintiffs’ allegations were unfounded, but instead ruled that the recent Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Shell/Royal Dutch Petroleum barred lawsuits based on conduct that occurred outside the U.S.

“In Kiobel, the Supreme Court specifically held that U.S. courts could hear cases that ‘touch and concern’ the United States ‘with sufficient force.’ This case, where U.S. citizen-employees of a U.S. corporation are alleged to have conspired with U.S. soldiers, who were punished in U.S. court martials, to commit one of the most notorious and internationally-condemned episodes of torture in U.S. history, inside a U.S.-controlled prison, within a country occupied by the U.S, is just such a case” said CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy
The six amicus briefs filed today were submitted by retired military officers; past United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Torture and current Rapporteur Juan Méndez; a group of human rights survivors who successfully sought redress in U.S. courts under the ATS, including Dolly Filártiga, plaintiff in the first modern use of the ATS to obtain accountability for human rights abuses; a group of civil procedure professors; international law and civil procedure scholars; and historians of international law. All argued that Al Shimari is not only permitted under Kiobel, but also that international law requires the U.S. to provide a forum for seeking accountability and redress for the abuses at Abu Ghraib.   
Said Retired Rear Admiral John D. Hutson and Dean Emeritus University of New Hampshire School of Law, “This case raises important questions regarding the reputation of the United States as a country that values the rule of law.  It is important for our courts to provide remedies for torture and war crimes committed by U.S. actors on U.S. controlled territory, especially if we wish to keep U.S. citizens safe when they operate abroad.  This country should not tolerate prisons that are beyond the law.” 
Said Juan Méndez, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, "States have an obligation to ensure that a remedy exists for victims of torture.  There has been little meaningful accountability with respect to the notorious instances of torture and serious abuse at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison against contractors. Allowing impunity to continue could undermine the anti-torture framework which I am charged to oversee, and to which the United States has committed itself on becoming a party to the Convention Against Torture."
Al Shimari is one in a series of cases brought by CCR and co-counsel seeking accountability for torture at Abu Ghraib; last October, Al-Quraishi v Nakhla and L-3 was voluntarily dismissed following settlement. Inside the prison, plaintiffs were subjected to electric shocks, sexual violence, forced nudity, and broken bones, and deprived of oxygen, food, and water. U.S. military investigators concluded that several CACI employees serving as interrogators directed abuse of Abu Ghraib prisoners in order to “soften” them up for interrogations.
Read today’s filings here.
Plaintiffs’ appeal brief was filed on October 29th. Co-counsel in the case are Shereef Akeel of Akeel & Valentine, P.C. in Troy, Michigan, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, and George Brent Mickum IV.

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 

November 6, 2013