5-13-2011By Gabor Rona
International Legal Director
Abu Ghraib. Eight years ago the Iraqi prison was the site of physical and psychological torture, rape, sodomy and murder of Iraqi prisoners committed by Americans under the authority of Americans. While 11 soldiers were convicted on detainee abuse charges and Army investigations implicated at least five private contractors in similar crimes, no contractor was ever even charged.
But what about the victims?
Are they entitled to compensation for what they suffered at the hands of Americans? In fact the UN Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – two of the most important international human rights treaties to which the United States is a party – not only prohibit such conduct but require States to provide “enforceable” or “effective” remedies to victims.
In fact, not one victim of official cruelty in U.S. custody, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, CIA detention abroad, Guantanamo or elsewhere, has had access to an enforceable, effective remedy. Why? Because the Bush administration, and then the Obama administration, have successfully argued in court that allowing these claims to be heard would endanger national security.
One such case was filed by Abu Ghraib torture victims against private military contractors CACI International Incorporated and Titan Corporation (now L-3 Services) who provided interrogation and translation services. The case was dismissed on the ground that contractors involved in combat activities on a battlefield should be protected from lawsuits.
The victims appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and Human Rights First submitted an amicus brief, available here, arguing that the decision by the D.C. Circuit to immunize the criminal conduct of private military contractors is incompatible with the United States’ international legal obligations. The Supreme Court has yet to decide whether or not to hear the case. The Court first wants to hear if the U.S. Government, which is not a party to the suit, has an opinion or interest.
Human Rights First has sent a letter to Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal, the official responsible for representing the government before the Supreme Court. We’ve urged the government to urge the Court to hear the case and to reverse the decision that denies victims a remedy. See our letter here, explaining why the dismissal of these claims is bad law and bad national security policy.