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First trial over Abu Ghraib torture begins in US court, 20 years after revelations

April 15, 2024 at 6:31 pm

U.S. soldiers maintain security at the Abu Ghraib prison May 10, 2004 in Abu Ghraib, Iraq [Khampha Bouaphanh/Pool/Getty Images]

Men tortured by American forces and contractors in Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison are finally having their day in court in the United States, two decades after their abuse was revealed to the world.

A federal court in the US State of Virginia is today hearing the case of a lawsuit issued by the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of three Iraqi civilians – Suhail Najim Abdullah Al Shimari, Salah Al-Ejaili and As’ad Al-Zuba’e – who had been detained and tortured at Abu Ghraib following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, until their release in 2004.

The former detainees are suing CACI Premier Technology, a private company which was contracted by the US government during the occupation of Iraq to provide interrogators at prisons. Despite fighting for 16 years to have the case dismissed and thrown out, the company lost its last and twentieth appeal in November, clearing the way for today’s trial.

Asserting that CACI directed and participated in torture and other abuse at Abu Ghraib, the men are actively seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

READ: Remembering the revelations of US torture at Abu Ghraib

According to reports, the only reason this case was able to advance is due to the fact that the defendant, CACI, is a military contractor rather than an official branch of the US military. Due to a law from 1946, the US military has immunity and exemption from claims dating from a wartime period or incident.

Today’s trial is the first to be held in American courts holding to account the post-9/11 abuse and torture of detainees under US custody, with Washington having refused to establish any official compensation program or other avenues for redress for those crimes until now, as well as there not being any pathways available for even having victims’ cases heard.

In a statement by Human Rights Watch, it called the lawsuit “a critical step towards justice for these three men who will finally have their day in court. But they are the lucky few. For the hundreds of other survivors still suffering from past abuses, their chances of justice remain slim.” It stressed that the “US Government should do the right thing: take responsibility for their abuses, offer an apology, and open an avenue to redress that has been denied them for too many years.”

Katherine Gallagher, a senior attorney at the CCR, stated that “This is a historic trial that we hope will deliver some measure of justice and healing for what President Bush rightly deemed disgraceful conduct that dishonoured the United States and its values”.

READ: No compensation for Iraqi victims of US torture and abuse in Abu Ghraib prison