More than a decade later, Iraqi survivors of torture at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison are still fighting for "a measure of justice" in U.S. civil courts.
The four plaintiffs, all of whom were held captive at the prison then released without charges, argued in a federal district court in Virginia on Friday that private mercenary company CACI Premier Technology, Inc. (CACI)—which was operating in the prison—should have to stand trial for its confirmed role in their torture. The hearing was the latest development in a suit, backed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which was first filed in 2008.
The contractor has argued vigorously that it should not face any liability, despite the fact that military investigators found (pdf) that, in 2004, CACI directly colluded with U.S. soldiers in torture. So far, CACI's efforts to dodge culpability have been successful.
In 2013, a federal judge dismissed the former Abu Ghraib prisoners' lawsuit against CACI on the grounds that, because Abu Ghraib is overseas, it is beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. That ruling, however, was later overturned by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, thereby allowing the lawsuit to proceed.
Now, CACI argues that the question of whether it can be held accountable is a "political question." The New York Times describes this legal argument as "a murky concept, nearly as old as the Supreme Court itself, holds that courts are not authorized or equipped to resolve certain matters — like some military decisions or aspects of foreign relations — and must leave them to the other branches of government."
Lawyers say that what the company is really after is impunity for torture.
"Each time, their argument focuses not on the torture to which our plaintiffs were subjected, but on why this private corporation should receive immunity for grave international law violations," said Baher Azmy, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, in a press statement released Friday. "Our clients deserve to have the court—and the American public—hear their painful stories. And they deserve a measure of justice for what was done to them."
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The Times echoed this sentiment in a sharply-worded editorial entitled, "Will Anyone Pay for Abu Ghraib?"
They write that CACI had "no problem taking taxpayers’ money, but when it comes to taking responsibility for their role at the prison, they try to hide behind a web of convoluted arguments that would render them legally untouchable." The piece continues, "Sheltering [CACI] from the federal courts as well means they can operate with impunity."
The plaintiffs—Suhail Najim Abdullah Al Shimari, Taha Yaseen Arraq Rashid, Sa’ad Hamza Hantoosh Al-Zuba’e, and Salah Hasan Nusaif Jasim Al-Ejaili—were subjected to "electric shocks, sexual violence, forced nudity, broken bones, and deprivation of oxygen, food, and water," according to a statement from their lawyers. They still suffer physical and psychological wounds as a result.
Despite the global outcry over the atrocities committed in the Abu Ghraib prison, which was reportedly shut down last year by the Iraqi government, the only people who have, so far, been held accountable for torture at the prison are low-ranking U.S. soldiers.
In April 2014, Democracy Now! interviewed Salah Hassan Al-Ejaili about his torture.