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Richmond, VA - Last evening, six amicus briefs were filed with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of four men suing private military contractor CACI Premier Technology, Inc. (CACI) for the company's role in torturing and otherwise seriously mistreating them at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The briefs were filed by Alberto J. Mora, former General Counsel of the United States Navy, who led efforts within the Defense Department to oppose Bush administration legal theories sanctioning torture and to end unlawful interrogation techniques at Guantanamo; constitutional scholars; prominent human rights organizations; the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture; survivors of human rights violations; and retired military generals, admirals, and other officers. The briefs were filed in the appeal of a district court ruling in the Center for Constitutional Rights case Al Shimari v. CACI et al. that effectively granted CACI immunity for its role in torture and other abuse at Abu Ghraib on the grounds that adjudicating the torture claims might implicate military policy and that the prohibition on torture was insufficiently clear to permit a court to evaluate the allegations of sadistic, cruel, and wanton abuse.
Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora wrote to the court:
The court can and must adjudicate the case. . . . [F]ailure to do so would cause massive damage to our national identity and values, our laws and legal system, our foreign policy and national security interests, and to the architecture of international human rights. In the United States, our independent courts were founded on the proposition that they should neither be completely submissive to the military nor willing to become submissive by disregarding the clear mandates of the law. Whether this proposition continues to be true is put to the test in this appeal.
Al Shimari v. CACI et al. was filed in 2008 on behalf of four Iraqi men who were tortured at the so-called "hard site" at Abu Ghraib. The men were subjected to electric shocks, sexual violence, forced nudity, broken bones, and deprivation of oxygen, food, and water. CACI's co-conspirators, Ivan Frederick III and Charles Graner, were court martialed and imprisoned for their role in the abuse of detainees, and implicated CACI interrogators in the abuse of detainees.
In June, a federal judge ruled that even though U.S. military investigators concluded that several CACI interrogators conspired with the U.S. soldiers to "soften" up detainees for interrogations, which contributed to "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses," CACI's responsibility for its role in the torture is a "political question" unreviewable by the courts. The amicus briefs support the plaintiffs' argument that torture is a legal question, not a question of policy, and that torture survivors must be able to seek accountability through the courts.
"The prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment is a universal and absolute legal requirement; it is not a policy judgment left to the discretion of the military or its contractors," said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy. "As this broad range of amicus filings makes clear, the failure of courts to review these men's compelling claims of torture and abuse is inconsistent with our constitutional and international law obligations and undermines the strength of the torture prohibition here and abroad."
Last year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the district court's earlier dismissal of the case, reinstating CCR's claims and allowing the torture survivors to sue CACI under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which allows federal courts to hear suits for abuses committed abroad "in violation of the law of nations."
Amicus briefs were filed by Alberto J. Mora, now at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government; prominent constitutional law and federal jurisdiction scholars including Steven Vladeck; human rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch; the Center for Justice and Accountability on behalf of human rights survivors; the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez; and retired senior military officers. They are available on CCR's case page.
Jeena Shah of the International Human Rights Clinic at Rutgers Law School-Newark, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LP, and Shereef Akeel & Valentin, P.C. in Troy, Michigan are co-counsel on the case.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.ccrjustice.org and follow @theCCR.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CCR is committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.(212) 614-6464
"I didn't come to Congress to hurt people," said Rep. Jim McGovern. "And when I listen to my Republican friends, what is clear to me is that we don't share the same values."
Rep. Jim McGovern, a leading anti-hunger lawmaker in the House, expressed anger Tuesday that the debt ceiling legislation negotiated by Republicans and the Biden administration targets food benefits for older adults while doing nothing to raise taxes on the wealthy or rein in military spending.
During a House Rules Committee hearing on the bill, McGovern (D-Mass.)—the panel's top Democrat—slammed his Republican colleagues for claiming to care about the deficit but refusing to look to the Department of Defense, a paragon of wasteful spending and fraud, for savings. The White House and Republicans ultimately agreed to increase military spending for the coming fiscal year.
Meanwhile, Republicans rejected White House proposals to close tax loopholes exploited by the rich.
Instead, McGovern said Tuesday, the GOP insists Congress has to "cut funding that helps the most vulnerable in this country."
"Give me a goddamn break," he added.
McGovern voiced particular alarm over the bill's expansion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work requirements to include adults between the ages of 50 and 54, a Republican demand. Analysts and campaigners say the change, which would sunset in 2030, could put hundreds of thousands of older adults at risk of losing food aid.
White House officials and President Joe Biden himself have defended the new requirements by pointing to the legislation's proposed expansion of SNAP benefits for veterans, kids leaving foster care, and people experiencing housing insecurity.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Biden brushed aside progressives' warnings that the bill could cause some people to go hungry, calling such concerns "ridiculous."
McGovern pushed back during Tuesday's hearing, saying that "improving benefits for some does not justify putting 700,000 older adults at risk of losing critical, lifesaving food benefits."
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) published an assessment late Tuesday that concludes the debt ceiling bill, titled the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, would lead to roughly 78,000 people gaining SNAP benefits "in an average month, on net (an increase of about 0.2% in the total number of people receiving SNAP benefits)."
But observers cautioned that the CBO's estimate hinges on ensuring that vulnerable people, particularly those who are homeless, are aware they are exempt from SNAP work requirements and able to navigate the program's bureaucracy.
"This is HIGHLY theoretical," The American Prospect's David Dayen wrote of the CBO analysis. "There's no funding to identify eligible people without benefits or to help them apply or find the necessary documentation. I obviously haven't seen the model but it seems like wishful thinking to me."
"How are we exactly a) informing homeless individuals that 1 of the 2 work requirements for SNAP [has] been lifted, b) helping them collect and submit the documents that prove they meet the income test, and so on?" Dayen asked.
After a nearly six-hour hearing, the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee voted Tuesday to send the debt ceiling legislation to the full House for a vote, which could come as soon as Wednesday evening.
McGovern and every other Democrat on the panel voted no.
Ahead of Tuesday's committee vote, McGovern called the latest standoff over the debt ceiling an "all-time high in recklessness and stupidity" and said Republicans "manufactured" a "crisis that risks the full faith and credit of the United States."
"Republicans are unfit to govern," said McGovern, one of the lawmakers who—to no avail—urged Biden to use his 14th Amendment authority to unilaterally avert a debt ceiling catastrophe.
"This bill could have been a lot more awful than it is," McGovern added. "I didn't come to Congress to hurt people. And when I listen to my Republican friends, what is clear to me is that we don't share the same values."
"We're taking the streets to shut it down and send the message to Sen. Schumer that he must STOP the #DirtyDeal being included in the debt ceiling bill!"
As progressives excoriated President Joe Biden's debt ceiling deal with Republican lawmakers over "polluter giveaways" including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, activists rallied outside Sen. Chuck Schumer's Brooklyn home on Tuesday evening with a message for the majority leader: "Stop the dirty pipeline deal, or we shut down your block."
The protesters—led by Climate Defiance and backed by Food & Water Watch, Climate Defenders, Climate Families NYC, New York Communities for Change (NYCC), and others—chanted messages including "Schumer, stop the dirty deal" as they marched in the Park Slope neighborhood where he lives.
"Schumer is on the cusp of making a deal with the devil, stripping down our bedrock environmental laws and review processes for the Sisyphean task of trying to appease fossil fuel oligarch [Senate Energy Committee Chair] Joe Manchin," the rally's organizers said in a statement published on Action Network. "This is not ok!"
\u201cNew Yorkers taking the street outside @SenSchumer\u2019s Brooklyn apartment now. Risking arrest to demand he stop the dirty deal giveaway to the oil and gas companies.\n\nNo MVP! No Dirty Deal!\u201d— Alex Beauchamp (@Alex Beauchamp) 1685484102
The group Indivisible tweeted: "We're taking the streets to shut it down and send the message to Sen. Schumer that he must STOP the #DirtyDeal being included in the debt ceiling bill! It's time to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure and that means no more pipelines. Chuck, stop appeasing Manchin!"
While OpenSecrets.org lists Manchin (D-W.Va.) as the biggest congressional recipient of fossil fuel campaign donations during the 2021-22 election cycle, The New Republicreported last September that Schumer (D-N.Y.) took more donations than Manchin from NextEra Capital Holdings, one of the companies behind the $6.6 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).
\u201cOne of the companies behind the pipeline, NextEra Energy,\u00a0is a major donor\u00a0to Mr. Schumer & Mr. Manchin. \n\nIn 2022, NextEra\u2019s employees and political action committees gave $302,600 to Mr. Schumer and $60,350 to Mr. Manchin, according to OpenSecrets data.\n\nhttps://t.co/upVyuiCNzU\u201d— OpenSecrets.org (@OpenSecrets.org) 1685488230
The debt ceiling bill states that "Congress hereby finds and declares that the timely completion of construction and operation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline is required in the national interest."
Manchin, whose family is heavily invested in fossil fuels, is a staunch booster of the MVP, as is the state's other U.S. senator, Republican Shelley Moore Capito. Manchin has been trying—so far without success—to gain congressional approval of the project since early last year. Last December, he tried to attach what was also being described as a "zombie deal" to the $858 billion military spending package. It was Manchin's third time floating the measure.
The organizers of Tuesday's protest called the MVP an "ecocidal project" that "would transport 2 billion cubic feet of fracked gas every single day."
"It would have the same climate impact as multiple dozens of brand-new coal plants," the groups warned. "We cannot allow Chuck Schumer to sell out our future to Joe Manchin. And we won't."
The MVP's inclusion in the bill to avoid a first-ever U.S. default does not mean the pipeline will ultimately be part of the package. On Tuesday, six House Democrats from Virginia—Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Jennifer McClellan, Bobby Scott, Abigail Spanberger, and Jennifer Wexton—introduced an amendment that would strip MVP approval from the legislation.
"A moratorium on dangerous and underregulated carbon dioxide pipelines is essential to protect communities and the environment," said one campaigner.
More than 150 climate and other advocacy groups on Tuesday urged U.S. President Joe Biden to block authorization of all new carbon dioxide pipelines—which experts say increase emissions while posing serious safety risks due largely to underregulation—until adequate safety rules are enacted.
"We call on you to issue an executive order putting a moratorium on all federal permits for CO2 pipelines and related infrastructure, and urging states to do the same until the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) finalizes robust new safety regulations that protect communities and the environment," the coalition wrote in a letter to the president.
"PHMSA is planning to propose revised regulations in the fall of 2024, in response to a rupture of a pipeline transporting CO2 in Satartia, Mississippi that hospitalized residents and posed significant challenges for first responders who were ill-equipped to respond to such an emergency," the signers wrote. "However, we are facing a massive build-out of CO2 pipelines now; in the absence of updated federal regulations, our communities face the risk of much larger and more devastating ruptures."
\u201cWe were proud to join over 150 other groups last week on a letter calling for a moratorium on CO2 pipelines. \n\nVia @foodandwater: https://t.co/e3Xs7LB6sf\u201d— Imagine Water Works (@Imagine Water Works) 1685475572
CO2 pipelines are used for carbon capture and storage (CCS), an unproven technology in terms of scalability that coalition member Food & Water Watch has called a "false climate solution" and a "lifeline for the fossil fuel industry."
Experts say that, in addition to emitting harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene, CCS actually contributes to a net increase in emissions.
Carbon dioxide pipelines are also prone to ductile fractures from which massive amounts of CO2—a heavier-than-air asphyxiant that can travel long distances at lethal concentrations—can escape. The 2020 Satartia rupture sent nearly 50 people to the hospital and resulted in the evacuation of hundreds of local residents.
\u201cEver wondered why we say that carbon capture is a fossil fuel industry scam, even though it sounds like a good thing? Now you can learn more about why carbon capture is another lie from the fossil fuel industry!\n\nExplore our new info hub on our website. \u2b07\ufe0f https://t.co/4toQ2CxxSm\u201d— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch) 1685386904
Despite this, the Biden administration's Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month announced new fossil fuel power plant rules that rely heavily on CCS and include plans to build thousands of miles of new CO2 pipelines. Additionally, the bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act both include billions of dollars for CCS expansion.
"We need President Biden to listen to the growing chorus of voices who are demanding a stop to dirty energy interests' rush to build dangerous and unsafe pipelines to transport CO2," Food & Water Watch policy director Jim Walsh said in a statement. "This industry pipe dream will quickly become a nightmare for communities in the path of these profit-driven schemes that can explode and send plumes of suffocating CO2 for miles."
\u201cCarbon capture is a fossil fuel industry scam that isn\u2019t proven to work at scale \u2013 period. That\u2019s why we need to tell Congress to invest in renewables instead. Will you join us? https://t.co/pdjL7jbwfK\nhttps://t.co/QnyjaS18t6\u201d— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch) 1684796470
"Pipelines to transport CO2 are the key component of the carbon capture scam that uses lies and misinformation to convince the public and policymakers that these dangerous and expensive projects are something other than a money-maker for dirty energy producers," Walsh added.
Maggie Coulter, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, said that "the Biden administration put the cart before the horse by creating huge subsidies for carbon capture and storage before comprehensive regulations are in place."
"A moratorium on dangerous and underregulated carbon dioxide pipelines is essential to protect communities and the environment," Coulter added.