An appellate court on Friday reinstated a lawsuit against a private military contractor accused of torturing detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, reversing a lower court decision that dismissed the case and rejecting the defendant's claim that the issue of torture was beyond the court's jurisdiction.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia ruled against the Arlington-based contractor CACI Premier Technology, Inc., sending the case back to the district court in Alexandria for additional review.
CACI had argued that its conduct was outside the court's bounds, but the panel disagreed, stating, "It is beyond the power of even the president to declare [torture] lawful.... The determination of specific violations of law is constitutionally committed to the courts, even if that law touches military affairs."
"[T]he military cannot lawfully exercise its authority by directing a contractor to engage in unlawful activity," the ruling stated.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which brought the case on behalf of four plaintiffs, celebrated Friday's ruling.
CCR legal director Baher Azmy said, "There is no question that torture is unlawful under domestic, military, and international law. The only issue in this case is whether CACI will be held accountable—or treated with impunity—for its role in torture at Abu Ghraib."
A 2004 military investigation (pdf) found that CACI contractors in 2003 conspired with U.S. soldiers to "soften" Abu Ghraib detainees for interrogations, which led to prisoners being subjected to a range of abuses, from electric shocks to sleep deprivation.
"Today's decision reaffirms the role of the courts to assess illegality, including torture, and we are optimistic this case will finally move forward and our clients will have their day in court," Azmy continued. "As with the problems that arise when private corporations run prisons, accountability is particularly important in this case where serious abuses were carried out by a for-profit corporation that made millions of dollars for its work at Abu Ghraib."
Salah Hassan, one of the plaintiffs, said, "Today, part of justice was achieved and this is something wonderful, not only for me and the other plaintiffs, but for all the just causes in the world. I wish to see in the coming period a ruling in our favor in this case. No doubt the result will be a white light in the process of justice in the world at the time."
This is the fourth time in roughly eight years that Al Shimari v. Premier Technology has been in front of an appeals court.