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Supreme Court Says Torture Law Applicable only to People
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On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Palestinian Authority and PLO do not come under the ambit of the U.S. victim protection law of 1991. In a lawsuit over the alleged torture of an American in a West Bank Prison, the Supreme Court held that the law only applies to individuals.

The court agreed with the Obama administration that civil lawsuits in U.S. courts under the Torture Victim Protection Act can only be brought against individuals and not against groups or organizations. The lawsuit had been brought by a naturalized U.S. citizen, Azzam Rahim, against the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority.

Previously, an appeals court had dismissed the lawsuit, the Supreme Court concurred.


Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “We hold that the term ‘individual’ as used in the act encompasses only natural persons. Consequently, the act does not impose liability against organizations.” The court also stressed that the text of the legislation did not imply any other intention of the Congress than what was specifically expressed.

Justice Sotomayor said the arguments of the plaintiffs were not tenable. She refuted the argument that precluding liability of organizations may foreclose effective remedies for victims and their relatives where it is difficult to identify individual perpetrators of torture. However, the court held that the Congress was well aware of such limits when it created the legislation.

Hearings are also scheduled later in October over the questions of the applicability of Alien Tort Statutes in a related case, and whether U.S. courts possess the jurisdiction to admit lawsuits against multinational corporations over allegations of human rights abuses committed abroad.

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The lawsuit brought on behalf of the U.S. citizen by family and well wishers claimed that he was tortured and killed in 1995 at a prison in Jericho while in the custody of Palestinian intelligence officers. The PLO has denied such allegations, and the Supreme Court has held in the absence of specifically identified individuals, the case loses merit against a group – at least as far the jurisdiction of the torture law is applicable.

Critics opine that the ruling would undermine the safety of U.S. individuals in foreign soil, because it would be extremely difficult for torture victims to identify foreign individuals in their own country.

The Supreme Court case is Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority, No. 11-88.



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