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Appeals Court Revives Iraq Torture Cases
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On Friday, a 14-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit revived two lawsuits concerning the torture and abuse of Iraqis detained at the dreaded Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, and at other locations. The appeals court refused to dismiss the suits or intervene in the proceedings and sent them back to district courts. The lawsuits against CACI International Inc and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc were brought following international outrage over torture in Abu Ghraib.

After the invasion of Iraq, the United States hired contractors from CACI and L-3 for helping to conduct investigations and conduct translation work. In 2004, photographs showing bestial torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib by Americans leaked out and quickly spread across the internet. While military personnel exposed in the torture have been punished, no action was taken against employees of the contractors who participated in the torture.

In 2008, some Iraqis filed lawsuits against CACI and L-3, accusing their employees of sexual abuse of prisoners, of administering electric shocks, conducting mock executions and inflicting physical damage. The district courts in Virginia and Maryland rejected the attempts of the companies to have the lawsuits dismissed. Then the companies filed an interim appeal to the 4th Circuit holding up the lower court proceedings. They referred to a 2009 ruling by a federal appeals court in Washington D.C. which dismissed a similar suit, and the dismissal was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.


In September, a three-judge panel of the 4th circuit accepted the arguments of the companies and found that the companies enjoyed immunity as government contractors and that the claims of the plaintiffs were pre-empted by U.S. national security and federal laws.

However, a larger panel of the 4th Circuit agreed to reconsider the appeal and the majority concluded that the companies did not qualify for any immediate appeal and needed to substantiate their claims through proper discovery of evidence in the lower courts.

Writing for the 12-2 panel, Judge Robert King held that allowing the early appeal would “undermine efficient judicial administration and encroach upon the prerogatives of district court judges, who play a special role in managing ongoing litigation.”

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However dissenting judge, J. Harvie Wilkinson opined that the ruling of the majority “inflicts significant damage on the separation of powers, allowing civil tort suits to invade theaters of armed conflict.”

The case is Al Shimari et al v. CACI International Inc et al, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, No. 09-1335.



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