Former Abu Ghraib inmates sue US contractor, claiming employees took part in torture

Trial is first time that alleged victims of US torture will have a case heard in an American court

An inmate in an outdoor cell talks with a US military police officer at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad in June 2004. AP
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A historic trial began on Monday in the US District Court in Virginia, in which a group of former inmates of Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison have accused an American contractor of engaging in illegal conduct including torture.

Suhail Al Shimari, Asa'ad Zuba’e and Salah Al Ejaili, who were released without charge from Abu Ghraib in 2004, are seeking punitive damages.

The case accuses contractors employed by CACI Premier Technology of torturing and abusing them during their detention.

It is the first time that alleged victims of US torture will be able to have their case heard in an American court.

"This case is part of our effort to bring accountability for torture and other serious violations of international law arising out of the so-called war on terror and invasion of Iraq," the Centre for Constitutional Rights, whose legal team is representing the Iraqi plaintiffs, said in a statement.

"Our clients are Iraqi civilians who were ultimately released without ever being charged with a crime.

"They all continue to suffer from physical and mental injuries caused by the torture and other abuse they endured."

The suit claims that employees of CACI, hired by the US military to provide interrogation services, took part in illegal practices including torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, the CCR says.

The centre says CACI has tried to have the case dismissed more than 20 times in the past 16 years.

The Virginia-based contractor has denied any wrongdoing, according to the Associated Press, and has emphasised that its employees are not alleged to have inflicted any abuse on any of the plaintiffs in the case.

The National has contacted CACI for further comment.

The case was first filed in 2008 and comes 20 years after the first images of the horrors of Abu Ghraib, where the US military held thousands of detainees after the invasion of Iraq began in 2003, were first released.

CBS News was the first to share photos of US soldiers abusing detainees in their custody.

In the more recognisable images, a hooded detainee connected to electrical wires stands on a box, while in another, naked detainees are piled on top of each other while US soldiers smile for the camera.

While a few lower-ranking soldiers were charged in military trials after the incidents at Abu Ghraib, no US military leaders, politicians, officials or private contractors have ever been held to account.

This suit was filed under the Alien Tort Statute, which gives federal courts jurisdiction over lawsuits filed by foreign citizens for acts committed in breach of international law.

The trial is expected to last two weeks.

It begins on the same day that Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani arrived in Washington to meet President Joe Biden and other senior administration officials.

One of the focuses of his meetings will be progress towards the withdrawal from Iraq of US troops, who are serving in an advise-and-assist capacity to prevent the return of ISIS.

Updated: April 16, 2024, 4:32 AM