A US military contractor being sued for its involvement in the brutal torture of Iraqi inmates at the country’s Abu Ghraib prison during the US-led invasion of the nation has argued that recent Supreme Court cases make clear it cannot be held liable for misconduct that occurred overseas.
The Virginia-based military contractor CACI, which supplied interrogators at the notorious prison compound, sought on Friday to have the 13-year-old legal action dismissed, with the most recent legal debate centering on the extent to which American companies can be sued for their violations overseas, AP reported.
According to the report, the US Supreme Court has restricted corporations' potential liability in recent years as the high court recently dismissed a civil suit against a subsidiary of American chocolate maker Nestle after it was accused of complicity in child slavery on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast.
CACI lawyer John O'Connor insisted during a hearing in the US District Court in Alexandria on Friday that the high court's ruling in the Nestle case earlier this year compels the CACI lawsuit to be thrown out on similar grounds.
However, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema appeared unpersuaded from the outset, emphasizing, “I think you overread Nestle.”
While the judge did not immediately reject CACI's motion, she did point out that she sees major differences in the allegations against Nestle and the allegations regarding CACI's complicity in the brutal torture of inmates at Abu Ghraib.
In the CACI case, for instance, company personnel were assigned directly to Abu Ghraib under a government contract, an element that was not present in the Nestle case.
In fact, Iraq's status at the time as an invaded nation governed by the Coalition Provisional Authority, a multinational entity dominated by the US military, calls into question whether Iraq and Abu Ghraib were truly foreign territory, lawyers for the Abu Ghraib victims argued.
Brinkema further pointed to an email from a CACI employee assigned to Abu Ghraib that she described as a potential “smoking gun.” The email was uncovered in the discovery process of the lawsuit, but it is filed under seal.
But as described in generic terms in court papers and by Brinkema, it was sent by a CACI employee to his boss outlining abuses he had personally witnessed. The employee apparently resigned in protest, Brinkema said as cited in the report, adding that she was “amazed” that no one at CACI seemed to follow up on the employee's concerns.
CACI has strongly denied that any of its employees engaged in or sanctioned torture, the report adds, noting that the three inmates who filed the suit -- with the assistance of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights -- acknowledge that they were never directly assaulted or tortured by any CACI employees.
But the lawsuit alleges that CACI was complicit and aided and abetted the torture by setting up the conditions under which soldiers conducted the brutal treatment that shocked the world when photographs of the abuse were made public in 2004.
CACI's legal arguments are just the most recent in a string of challenges to the lawsuit. On two prior occasions, a judge did in fact toss out the lawsuit, only to see it reinstated on appeal.
Most recently, CACI argued it had immunity from a lawsuit in the same way that the US government would enjoy immunity because it was working as a contractor at the behest of the government.
Brinkema, however, ruled that when it comes to fundamental violations of international norms like those depicted at Abu Ghraib, the government enjoys no immunity, and neither does a government contractor.