Corporations and torture at Abu Ghraib

This is the text of a Factsheet issued by the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights in May 2008

In April 2004, 60 Minutes and The New Yorker exposed a system of torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners detained by the U.S. at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The revelation of pictures and video documenting the horrific abuses led to the court-martial of a small-number of low-level U.S. soldiers. Relatively unexamined, however, is the role played at Abu Ghraib by contractors from two U.S.-based corporations: Titan Corporation/L-3 and CACI International, Inc. Although Titan/L-3 and CACI employees were directly involved in the torture of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib, no employee of either company has been convicted of any offense.

What are Titan/L-3 and CACI and why are for-profit companies working at a prison in Iraq?

After the U.S. military invaded Iraq in March 2003, dozens of private military companies - including CACI and Titan/L-3 - were hired to provide various services to support U.S. military and government operations there. The contracts between the U.S.-led occupation authority and for-profit military groups are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Today, companies that have contracts with the U.S. government provide a vast array of services in Iraq, ranging from personal security for Iraqi and American officials to protection of oil facilities to armed escorts for "reconstruction" businesses.

Titan/L-3 and CACI are two corporations headquartered in the United States who contracted with the United States to provide services in Iraq. Titan/L-3 was hired to provide translation services for U.S. personnel, including at Abu Ghraib prison. CACI provided interrogation services, providing nearly half the interrogators at Abu Ghraib. Employees from both corporations were part of the conspiracy to torture and humiliate Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib.

What is Saleh v. Titan, et al?

In June 2004, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and a team of lawyers that included Susan Burke of Burke O'Neil LLC and Shereef Akeel of Akeel & Valentine, PLC., brought a lawsuit against Titan/L-3, CACI, and some of their employees on behalf of torture victims from Abu Ghraib and their families. The suit charges that Titan/L-3 and CACI violated international, federal, and state law by participating in a torture conspiracy, along with certain U.S. government personnel, that led to the torture, rape, assault, and killing of Iraqi detainees held at Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons. The international law claims were brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a 1789 statute which allows non-U.S. citizens to file suits for well-recognized international human rights violations in U.S. courts.

The Plaintiffs

The plaintiffs in this case include more than 250 named individuals who were swept up in military raids in Iraq and detained at prisons under the control of the U.S, including at Abu Ghraib. No plaintiff was ever charged or convicted of any crime. Plaintiffs include both women and men; some claims are brought by family members on behalf of relatives who died at Abu Ghraib.

The named plaintiff, Haidar Saleh, is a Swedish citizen who lived in Dearborn, MI at the time the suit was filed. He opposed the Baath Party and was imprisoned and tortured under Saddam Hussein, in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. After being released from prison, Mr. Saleh fled from Iraq to Sweden. After the Hussein regime fell, he responded to the United States' plea for expatriates to return and help rebuild Iraq and returned to Iraq with funds to invest and rebuild the country. In the cruelest of ironies, upon his arrival on or about September 25, 2003, he was detained and was again sent to the same Abu Ghraib prison where he had been tortured by Sad-dam Hussein.

The Litigation

Over the four years it has been litigated, Saleh v. Titan has been moved from the Southern District of California to the District Court for the District of Columbia. Both Titan and CACI filed motions to dismiss. These motions were granted in part in June 2006, at which time the claims brought under the ATS and RICO were dismissed. The District Court judge, Judge James Robertson, denied defendants' attempts to have the case dismissed on political question grounds and it proceeded on the basis of common law tort claims. In November 2007, following nearly a year of discovery on whether the "government contractor defense" applied in this case, Judge Robertson granted Titan/L-3's motion for summary judgment - thus dismissing the case against Titan/L-3-on the grounds that Titan interpreters were under the exclusive control of the U.S. military and that it would therefore be improper for the case against them to proceed.

Judge Robertson declined to grant summary judgment for CACI, however, ruling that CACI maintained control over its decision-making and that allowing the claims against it to proceed would not therefore require second-guessing military decision-making. Judge Robertson ordered a jury trial against CACI, but subsequently certified the decision for interlocutory appeal. CCR has appealed his decision in relation to Titan/L-3. Both appeals are currently pending before the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, with briefing expected to commence shortly.

What is Al-Janabi v. Stefanowicz, et al?

In May 2008, CCR, with Susan Burke and other attorneys from Burke O'Neil LLC and Shereef Akeel of Akeel & Valentine, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Emad Al-Janabi, a 43-year-old Iraqi blacksmith, who was beaten and forced from his home by people in U.S. military uniforms and civilian clothing in September 2003. He was de-tained at Abu Ghraib prison for almost one year and was released without charge in May 2004.

On October 2, 2003, during a surprise inspection of Abu Ghraib, the International Committee of the Red Cross discovered Mr. Al-Janabi naked, chained and bruised in a cell in the "hard site" of the prison. He was a so-called "ghost detainee" who was intentionally hidden from the Red Cross on subsequent inspections and held without appearing on the prisoner lists.

The suit charges that CACI, L-3 Communications Titan Corporation (formerly Titan) and former CACI contractor Steven Stefanowicz, known as "Big Steve" at Abu Ghraib, violated international, federal, and state law by participating in a torture conspiracy, along with U.S. military personnel, that led to the torture of Mr. Al-Janabi. Specifically, the case brings claims under the ATS and common law for violations including torture, war crimes, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and sexual assault or battery. Mr. Al-Janabi was threatened and tortured through acts that included being transported to a detainee site in a wooden box and covered with a hood; exposed to a mock execution of his brother and nephew, and told that he would be executed, or crushed by a helicopter or a tank; hung upside down, with his feet chained to the steel slats of a bunk bed, until he lost consciousness, and hung by his arms; being forced to remain naked; repeatedly deprived of food and sleep; and threatened with dogs.

What can you do?

  • Call upon the U.N. bodies tasked with overseeing human rights abuses and the work of private security companies and mercenaries to hold a special session examining the work of private security companies, the alleged abuses they have committed, the legal framework under which they operate, and the mechanisms for redress for victims of serious human rights violations committed by contractors.
  • Raise awareness on these issues in your community by writing Op-Ed pieces or Letters to the Editor, informing others about the manner in which private contractors operate, the violations committed and the impunity with which they act.
  • Demand accountability domestically for these violations and redress for the victims of human rights violations committed or instigated by private contractors.
  • Circulate petitions, organize events and demonstrations, boycott security contractors, raise awareness on blogs or journals, and support organizations working to end the abuses committed by private military contractors.

For more information

Visit CCR's website at ccrjustice.org

For specific information on these cases, visit:

  • Al Shimari v. CACI et al. - Al Shimari v. CACI is a federal lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of four Iraqi torture victims against U.S.-based government contractor CACI International Inc. and CACI Premier Technology, Inc. The lawsuit asserts that CACI directed and participated in illegal conduct, including torture, at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq where it was hired by the U.S. to provide interrogation services. CCR's four clients were all held at the "hard site" in Abu Ghraib prison in 2003-2004. Oral argument was held before Judges Keenan, Floyd, and Thacker in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on May 12, 2016, in Richmond, Virginia.
  • Saleh, et al. v. Titan, et al. - Saleh, et al. v. Titan, et al. is a federal class action lawsuit against U.S.-based private contractors CACI International, Inc. and Titan Corporation (which first changed its name to L-3 Services, and later to Engility), for their role in torture and other illegal acts committed at Abu Ghraib prison, where they were hired by the U.S. to provide interrogation and translation services. The Center for Constitutional Rights filed the suit on behalf of over 250 Iraqi civilians who were subjected to horrifying acts of torture at the hands of these contractors and certain government co-conspirators. On June 27, 2011, the Supreme Court declined without comment to take up the case, following a 2-1 dismissal by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on September 11, 2009, thereby ending this litigation.
  • Al-Quraishi, et al. v. Nakhla and L-3 Services - Al-Quraishi, et al. v. Nakhla and L-3 Services is a federal lawsuit against U.S.-based private contractor L-3 Services, Inc. (formerly Titan Corporation, now Engility) and Adel Nakhla, a former employee of Titan/L-3 Services, for their role in torture and other war crimes at Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq. CCR filed the suit on behalf of 72 Iraqi civilians who were subjected to horrifying acts of torture at the hands of these contractors and certain government co-conspirators. CACI International, Inc. had initially been named as a defendant in this case but was dismissed early in the litigation. After years of litigation, a settlement was reached on October 10, 2012, marking the first positive resolution to a U.S. civil case challenging detainee treatment outside the United States in the larger "war on terror" context.

 

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