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Judge throws out Abu Ghraib detainees’ torture case citing jurisdiction

By Reuters
Wednesday, June 26, 2013 20:06 EDT
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Freed prisoners leaving Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad in June 2006. File photo via AFP.
 
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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – CACI International Inc has won the dismissal of a lawsuit accusing it of conspiring to torture detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, as the defense contractor benefited from a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision over alleged human rights abuses on foreign soil.

In a decision made public on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in Alexandria, Virginia said he lacked jurisdiction to hear claims brought by the four Iraqi plaintiffs under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), and separate claims by one plaintiff that he said were barred under Iraqi law.

Lee ruled eight months after Engility Holdings Inc, a spinoff of L-3 Communications Holdings Inc, paid $5.28 million to settle similar claims against an L-3 unit by roughly six dozen people who were once held in Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons.

Photos depicting abuse of Abu Ghraib detainees emerged in 2004. While no contractors were charged, some detainees accused their workers in lawsuits of physical and sexual abuse, inflicting electric shocks, and conducting mock executions.

In the case against CACI, however, Lee said the Alien Tort Statute claims could not proceed, because the relevant activity took place in Iraq and was not covered under the Supreme Court’s April 17 decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co.

There, Chief Justice John Roberts said the law was presumed to cover international law violations occurring in the United States, and that violations elsewhere must “touch and concern” U.S. territory “with sufficient force” before people could sue.

Lee said the CACI plaintiffs’ claims fell short.

“Plaintiffs alleged that torture and war crimes occurred during their detention in Abu Ghraib,” he wrote. “Plaintiffs’ ATS claims do not allege that any violations occurred in the United States or any of its territories. Therefore, on these facts, the court holds that Kiobel’s bar against extraterritorial application of the ATS governs.”

Baher Azmy, legal director of Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents the CACI plaintiffs, plans to appeal.

“We argued there were no post-Kiobel decisions with stronger connections to the United States than ours,” he said in a phone interview. “You had a U.S.-based company that contracted with the U.S. government to provide interrogation services to U.S.-occupied Iraq and conspired with U.S. soldiers to torture and abuse detainees.

“We’re disappointed in the ruling and level of impunity it provides for human rights abuses undertaken by U.S. entities,” Azmy added.

CACI said in a statement: “We are gratified by the court’s decision and hope this is the end of these baseless lawsuits.”

A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia had in May 2012 allowed the lawsuits against CACI and L-3 to proceed.

CACI is based in Arlington, Virginia.

The case is Al Shimari et al v. CACI International Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, No. 08-00827.

(Additional reporting by Terry Baynes; Editing by Carol Bishopric)

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