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14 Apr 2024

Alice Speri, The Guardian

USA: Jury trial against military contractor CACI over ‘sadistic abuses’ in Iraq's Abu Ghraib Prison starts after 20 years

"‘Correct a black mark in US history’: former prisoners of Abu Ghraib get day in court"

... The jury trial, in a federal court in Virginia, comes nearly 20 years to the day that the photographs depicting torture and abuse in the prison were first revealed to the public, prompting an international scandal that came to symbolize the treatment of detainees in the US “war on terror”...

The suit was filed under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign nationals to file cases in US courts for violations of international law; the plaintiffs are seeking damages...

In November 2003, Al-Ejaili was working as a journalist for Al Jazeera and covering an explosion in Diyala district, north of Baghdad, when he was arrested by US forces and moved to military stations in different districts, before eventually being taken to Abu Ghraib.

At the prison, he was forced to strip naked and left without clothes for hours on end. Over the nearly two months he spent there, guards beat him, placed a black hood over his head and left him for hours with his hands tied, keeping him in conditions of sensory deprivation and threatening him with dogs during frequent interrogations. His captors were aware Al-Ejaili was a journalist: he had media accreditation from US forces, and guards at Abu Ghraib taunted him by calling him “Al Jazeera”. He was never given a reason for his arrest...

Detailed reports of the torture soon followed, and in 2004, an official investigation by US army Maj Gen Antonio Taguba concluded that “sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses” had been inflicted upon detainees.

Despite the global scandal caused by the photographs and subsequent media reports, accountability has been elusive, even as Abu Ghraib has come to epitomize the horrors of the US war on terror.

Only a handful of lower-rank soldiers faced military trials; no military or political leaders, or private contractors, were held legally accountable for what happened at Abu Ghraib or at any other facility where US detainees were tortured...

It has been an uphill battle to bring the case against CACI to trial. Since the lawsuit was filed in 2008, the company has tried to dismiss it more than 20 times, citing an array of technical arguments and primarily maintaining that because its employees were working for the US military, immunity and legal protections they argue should be afforded to the government should also apply to them. The company’s late former CEO, Jack London, went as far as writing an 800-page book – Our Good Name – in an effort to defend CACI’s reputation.

CACI and the Department of Defense did not respond to requests for comment...

As governments’ reliance on private actors in conflict zones and crisis situations has grown exponentially since the war in Iraq, the case is also a test of the courts’ ability to hold those contractors responsible for human rights abuses.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – the “most contracted-out wars in US history,” said Gallagher of CCR – earned private companies trillions in defense and other government contracts. To this day, CACI continues to make millions in US government contracts, including with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security...