Four former Iraqi detainees who say they were tortured at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison should be allowed to pursue their claims against the U.S. military contractor in charge of interrogating them, an attorney told a federal appeals court Tuesday.
Baher Azmy urged a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate his clients' lawsuit against CACI Premier Technology Inc. The company's lawyer, J. William Koegel Jr., argued that a district court judge correctly dismissed the lawsuit in June. The appeals court typically takes several weeks, or even months, to rule.
The plaintiffs say CACI employees conspired to have soldiers torture them to make them more compliant during interrogation. The former detainees say they were subjected to electrical shocks, sexual violence and forced nudity.
In 2004, photos depicting soldiers abusing Abu Ghraib detainees became public, shocking the national conscience and producing "universal condemnation among U.S. political and military leaders," the plaintiffs said in court papers.
However, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in Alexandria, Va., ruled last year that he lacked jurisdiction to consider the former detainees' civil claims because the alleged abuse occurred in a foreign country. His dismissal of the lawsuit on that basis prevented a hearing on the merits of the case.
Azmy told the appeals court that under Supreme Court precedent, the jurisdictional barrier can be lifted if the claims sufficiently "touch and concern" U.S. territory. He said that is clearly the case here, not only because the prison was under U.S. control but also because many of the activities furthering the alleged conspiracy occurred domestically.
"We allege the corporate defendant was approached by military and civilian whistleblowers and ignored those complaints," Azmy said.
Koegel said the "relevant conduct" was the alleged abuse itself — and that all occurred in Iraq and therefore outside the reach of U.S. courts.
Judge Barbara Milano Keenan asked if it mattered whether northern Virginia-based CACI followed the dictates of the contract, which was signed in the U.S.
"Why isn't that the jurisdictional hook?" she asked Koegel.
He said the "performance of the contract" is what matters, and that occurred in Iraq.