31 January 2012

Court says government contractors are accountable for torture

Will we finally see some accountability for torture by U.S. agents in the so-called "war on terror"? That is yet to be determined, but one new development may give us hope for justice at some level.

On January 27, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that private contractors who commit torture should not be immune from civil suits. This ruling struck down the claim by contractors CACI International, Inc., and L-3 Services, Inc., which provided interrogation and interpretation services in Iraq, that they should be immune based on a "battlefield Preemption" theory which protects civilian contractors engaging in combat activities under the command of the military.

This new ruling was in response to lawsuits filed on behalf of 76 Iraqis who allege that they were tortured and otherwise abused at Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons in Iraq. According to Human Rights First, "Among the alleged heinous acts: electric shocks, repeated brutal beatings, sleep and sensory deprivation, forced nudity, stress positions, sexual assault, mock executions, humiliation, hooding, isolated detention, and prolonged hanging by the limbs."

A brief in this case filed by the U.S. government expressed an interesting in "ensuring that military detention operations are conducted in a manner consistent with humane treatment obligations and the laws of war, and ensuring that contractors are held accountable for their conduct by appropriate means."

What a refreshing change of pace from the previous administration!

"By taking this position," stated Human Rights First, "not only does the United States meet its international human rights and law of war obligations but also advances its own interests. Specifically, it protects U.S. troops and civilians accompanying them abroad and bolsters national security."

So will civil suits by torture victims soon proceed? Or will the contractors appeal this ruling all the way to the Supreme Court? And, if so, what will happen there?

Stay tuned.

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