14 Years On, US Court Rules that Iraqis Tortured at Abu Ghraib Can Sue US Contractor

22.9.17

Al-Jazeera journalist Salah al-Ejaili, in a screenshot from an appearance on Democracy Now!Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Great news from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia, where three survivors of torture at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by employees of a private military contractor, CACI Premier Technology, have finally been told that their case can proceed, 14 years since they were initially held, and over nine years since the case was first filed.

It is now so long since the torture took place that younger readers may be unaware of Abu Ghraib, the prison in Iraq where photos of abuse first surfaced publicly in April 2004, shocking Americans in a way that nothing had previously despite there being such a wide array of brutal, counter-productive policies undertaken in the wake of the 9/11 attacks — from Afghanistan to Iraq, and from “black sites” and proxy torture prisons to Guantánamo. As they say — and this is a sad truth for a writer to acknowledge — a picture is worth a thousand words.

The three men are Suhail Najim Abdullah Al Shimari, Asa’ad Hamza Hanfoosh Zuba’e and Salah Hasan Nusaif Al-Ejaili, and their lawyers at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) stated in a press release after the ruling that the men, “formerly detained at the infamous ‘hard site’ at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were subjected to treatment that could constitute torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” according to the judge who allowed the case to proceed, Judge Leonie Brinkema.

On their website CCR describe the men’s torture and abuse as follows:

Suhail Najim Abdullah Al Shimari was detained from 2003 until 2008, during which he was held at the Abu Ghraib “hard site” for about two months. While he was there, CACI and its co-conspirators tortured him in various ways: he was subjected to electric shocks, deprived of food, threatened by dogs, and kept naked while forced to engage in physical activities to the point of exhaustion.

Asa’ad Hamza Hanfoosh Zuba’e was imprisoned at Abu Ghraib from 2003 until 2004. CACI and its co-conspirators tortured him while he was detained there by subjecting him to extremely hot and cold water, beating his genitals with a stick, and detaining him in a solitary cell in conditions of sensory deprivation for almost a full year.

Salah Hasan Nusaif Al-Ejaili, an Al Jazeera journalist, was imprisoned at the Abu Ghraib “hard site” for approximately four months. While he was there, CACI and its co-conspirators stripped him and kept him naked, threatened him with dogs, deprived him of food, beat him, and kept him in a solitary cell in conditions of sensory deprivation. See his interviews with Democracy Now! and BBC Witness.

Responding to the ruling, Salah Al Ejaili, one of the plaintiffs, said, “The case has taken a long time but we are now reaching its final steps, and I have hope that justice will be achieved. At that time, the success won’t be only mine, but also to all those who have been tortured around the world.” He added, “We will have our day in court, and the story of Abu Ghraib will be told by me and other men who lived — and survived it.”

As CCR explained, today’s hearing, at which CCR attorneys and co-counsel from Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LP argued for the plaintiffs, “marked the first time in the course of the nine-year case” that they were able to present in court “the details of the torture and serious mistreatment their clients suffered at Abu Ghraib.” As they proceeded to note, “In the proceedings to come, plaintiffs will seek to hold CACI directly accountable for cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, torture, and war crimes.”

Responding to the ruling, CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy said, “The court has sent an important message that there can be accountability for torture, a vital step for our clients who have yet to see justice.” He added, “This is a crucial ruling in a political climate where Trump has called for bringing back widely denounced torture techniques like waterboarding.”

CCR further explained that the case, Al Shimari v. CACI, was first filed in 2008 under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which “allows non-US citizens to sue for human rights violations committed abroad that ‘touch and concern’ the United States.”

In the long legal journey to this important day, as CCR stated, “the Fourth Circuit denied CACI’s attempt to have the case dismissed under the ‘political question’ doctrine” in October 2016, and in June this year the District Court “affirmed that war crimes, torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are well-recognized and definable norms and thus fall within the court’s jurisdiction” under the Alien Tort Statute. The court then “ordered both parties to brief whether the record supports a finding that the plaintiffs suffered these violations,” and, as CCR noted, “Shortly after, CACI moved to dismiss the case,” the move that has just been turned down.

As CCR further explained, “US military investigators long ago concluded that CACI interrogators conspired with US soldiers, who were later court martialed, to ‘soften up’ detainees for interrogations,” according to statements by co-conspirators. In a detailed report, Major General Antonio Taguba “referred to the treatment as ‘sadistic, blatant, and wanton’ criminal abuses.”

Al Ejaili, Al-Suba’e, and Al Shimari were, as CCR described it, “subjected to electric shocks, sexual assaults, sensory deprivation, mock executions, stress positions, broken bones, deprived of oxygen, food and water, stripped and kept naked, forced to witness the rape of a female prisoner, as well as experienced other dehumanizing acts of torture and threats to themselves and their families.”

In a further comment by CCR, Senior Staff Attorney Katherine Gallagher said, “We applaud the court for rejecting outdated Bush-era conceptions of torture in denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Fourteen years later, Salah, Asa’d, and Suhail are still suffering from what they experienced, and the torture of Iraqi civilians at Abu Ghraib remains one of the darkest chapters in recent U.S. history.” She added, “Now we have the opportunity to narrow the egregious accountability gap that has persisted: while a number of military officers were court martialed, the private contractors walked away with large payments, and they continue to be awarded millions of dollars in government contracts.”

Note: For more information, visit CCR’s case page, and please note that Jeena Shah of the International Human Rights Clinic at Rutgers Law School-Newark, and Shereef Akeel & Valentine, P.C. in Troy, Michigan, are also co-counsel on the case.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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2 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Great news from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia, where a judge has ruled that a case submitted by three men tortured in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq – against the private military contractors responsible for their torture – can proceed. It’s over nine years since this case was first submitted, and 14 years since the men’s ordeal began, but very reassuring that, although the wheels of justice move ever so slowly, they haven’t completely ground to a halt. Pictured here is one of the three plaintiffs, Al-Jazeera journalist Salah al-Ejaili.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    So great to hear this news today. The very first article I posted on my website, over eleven years ago, was a review of Mark Danner’s excellent analysis of the Abu Ghraib scandal, Torture and Truth: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2006/04/15/abu-ghraib/

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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