US court avoids torture suit against Abu Ghraib contractors
A federal appeals court on Friday avoided a lawsuit against two U.S. defense contractors by Iraqi torture victims, claiming immunity.
A federal appeals court on Friday avoided a lawsuit against two U.S. defense contractors by Iraqi torture victims, saying the companies had immunity as government contractors.
The lawsuit was filed in 2004 on behalf of Iraqi nationals who say they or their relatives had been tortured and mistreated while detained by the U.S. military at the Abu Ghraib prison.
"Allowance of such suits will surely hamper military flexibility and cost-effectiveness, as contractors may prove reluctant to expose their employees to litigation-prone combat situations," the court ruled Friday.
The plaintiffs sued CACI International Inc, which provided interrogators at Abu Ghraib, and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc's Titan unit, which provided interpreters to the U.S. military.
Attorneys representing the victims and their families had argued the contractors were not immune because the alleged torture at the prison fell outside the scope of the work they had agreed to perform.
By a 2-1 vote, the appellate panel found the two companies had government contractor immunity and the claims were preempted, based on a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling and other precedents in the national security and foreign policy areas.
Judge Merrick Garland dissented "immunity" decision. "No act of Congress and no judicial precedent bars the plaintiffs from suing the private contractors -- who were neither solders nor civilian government employees," he said.
"The plaintiffs in these cases allege that they were beaten, electrocuted, raped, subjected to attacks by dogs and otherwise abused by private contractors working as interpreters and interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison," Garland wrote.
A federal judge in 2007 dismissed the claims against Titan because the translators performed their duties under the direct command and exclusive operational control of the military.
But the judge ruled the lawsuit against CACI could go forward because its interrogators were subject to a dual chain of command involving company and military officials, with significant independent authority retained by CACI supervisors.
Reuters Last Mod: 12 Eylül 2009, 16:35