Group Urges Supreme Court to Hold Military Contractors Accountable for Torture and Abuse

Washington, DC Human Rights First today urged the Supreme Court to hear the case against CACI International and L-3 Services (formerly Titan Corporation), companies whose employees are alleged to have tortured detainees at Abu Ghraib. The group notes that the Supreme Court should grant cert in the case to ensure that private military contractors are held accountable for crimes and cannot sidestep domestic and international laws designed to prevent such abuses.

“The torture and abuse visited on detainees at Abu Ghraib was a violation of fundamental human rights and humanitarian law principles,” noted the group in its Amici brief. “The decision by the D.C. Circuit to immunize the tortious conduct of private military contractors on the ground that such contractors were ‘integrated into combatant activities over which the military retains command authority’ is incompatible with principles of international law to which the United States has subscribed.”

The group notes that the decision is incompatible with international law in two ways. First, it leaves the detainees without a civil remedy for the violations of their human rights. Second, it ignores that individuals taken and detained in the course of combat are owed a duty of care under the Geneva Conventions and that civil liability arises from the violation of that duty. Human Rights First notes that the D.C. Circuit ruling in this case cannot be reconciled with those fundamental principles.

The brief filed today notes that, unlike some military personnel involved in the Abu Ghraib abuses, the private military contractors who participated in torturing detainees have not been criminally prosecuted. The organization notes, “Immunizing government contractors for the acts alleged would create the appearance that the United States condones torture by proxy or is even willing to invite abuses by outsourcing certain military functions to private actors for whose conduct the government need not answer. The problem is not a small one, as there are more contractors than soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The case at hand stems from a federal lawsuit filed by more than 250 former Iraqi detainees held in various Iraqi detention facilities, including Abu Ghraib. The prisoners allege that private contractors from CACI and L-3 Services tortured and seriously abused them during interrogations. In 2007, U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson denied CACI’s motion for summary judgment, but ordered a jury trial in the case. CACI appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In a separate ruling, Robertson granted L-3 Services’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case against the company. Two years later, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled 2-1 to uphold the dismissal of all claims against L-3 Services and, reversing the lower court’s decision, dismissed all charges against CACI. The defendants are now seeking relief from the Supreme Court.

Human Rights First’s brief notes that failure to hold private military contractors accountable for crimes is out of step with the federal government’s interest in compliance with international norms of civilized behavior, whether expressed in statutes, treaties or in customary international law. The organization warns that such blatant disregard for these standards could place Americans captured overseas at risk.

In urging the Justices to take the case and conclude that the private military contractors should be held accountable for their crimes, the brief concludes, “The appearance that the government’s contractors are being given a free pass for serious acts of brutality can only deprive the United States of any moral suasion in its ongoing struggle to achieve greater worldwide observance of these norms. It will also place into peril American citizens who may become captives of a foreign power and for whom the United States will demand treatment no worse than it affords to others.”



Published on May 28, 2010


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