The Fight for Justice Continues: Six Amici Submitted Briefs to The Court in Support of the Abu Ghraib torture survivors
In response to the judgment of the Fourth Circuit district court in the Al Shimari v. CACI International Inc., which dismissed the case and required plaintiffs to pay CACI $13,731.61 for the legal fees, six amici briefs were submitted on Nov 9th with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in support to the plaintiffs’ appeal of the case.
In 2008, four Iraqi plaintiffs raised a claim in the Fourth Circuit district court seeking justice through the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), which allows non-U.S. citizens to bring civil actions in federals for torts committed in violation of international law. In Al Shimari, a claim ewas brought against a government contractor, CACI, alleging that CACI’s employees participated in torture, the “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” that occurred in Abu Ghraib in 2004. The plaintiffs were all detained without charge during the U.S. occupation of Iraq and all spent time in Abu Ghraib’s notorious “hard site.” At Abu Ghraib, they were subjected to acts of torture ranging from deprivation of clothing, food, water, and oxygen to electric shocks to the head, beatings that led to broken limbs and vision loss, and sexual abuse. Each of these men was eventually released from detention having never been charged with any crime.
Notwithstanding, the district court judge dismissed the case this past June relying on the Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Shell/Royal Dutch Petroleum. In Kiobel, the Supreme Court ruled that U.S. courts could hear cases that “touch and concern” the United States “with sufficient force.” Based on his interpretation of Kiobel, the district court judge concluded that he could not hear claims brought by foreign nationals that took place outside the U.S and dismissed this case “because the acts giving rise to their tort claims occurred exclusively in Iraq, a foreign sovereign”. Unfortunately, the dismissal was not the end of the case. CACI – a multi-billion-dollar corporation – made a counterclaim against the plaintiffs, who survive on very limited incomes in Iraq, alleging that the owed CACI thousands of dollars in legal fees. Unusual as the request was, the court, granted the counter claim, ordering that the plaintiffs pay CACI it’s attorney’s fees.
At the beginning of this November, the Abu Ghraib torture survivors, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-counsel, appealed the decision, challenging both the dismissal of the case and the legal fees. The plaintiffs argue that Abu Ghraib should not be considered beyond the control of United States law. “This case, where U.S. citizen-employees of a U.S. corporation are alleged to have conspired with U.S. soldiers, who were punished in U.S. court martials, to commit one of the most notorious and internationally-condemned episodes of torture in U.S. history, inside a U.S.-controlled prison, within a country occupied by the U.S, is just such a case” said CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy.
In supporting of the appeal, six amici submitted briefs to the Fourth Circuit court of appeal. The amici are retired military officers, former United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Torture and the current Rapporteur Juan Méndez and a group of human rights survivors who successfully sought redress in U.S. courts under the ATCA. All argued that Al Shimari is not only permitted under Kiobel, but also that international law requires the U.S. to provide a forum for seeking accountability and redress for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. “This case raises important questions regarding the reputation of the United States as a country that values the rule of law. It is important for our courts to provide remedies for torture and war crimes committed by U.S. actors on U.S. controlled territory, especially if we wish to keep U.S. citizens safe when they operate abroad. This country should not tolerate prisons that are beyond the law.” Said Retired Rear Admiral John D. Hutson and Dean Emeritus University of New Hampshire School of Law.
In the same context, professor Juan Méndez, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment said, “States have an obligation to ensure that a remedy exists for victims of torture. There has been little meaningful accountability with respect to the notorious instances of torture and serious abuse at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison against contractors. Allowing impunity to continue could undermine the anti-torture framework which I am charged to oversee, and to which the United States has committed itself on becoming a party to the Convention against Torture.”
Cases like Al Shimari v. CACI affirm that the fight for justice can be long and laborious. However, the six Amici who determined to take this long and hard path just to support the plaintiffs in obtaining their natural rights are not giants or superheroes. They are free thinking individuals who simply refused to be silent. Who realized that human rights are the responsibility that we all share to respect each other’s, to help each other’s and to protect those in need. As Eleanor Roosevelt said “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”