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US jury fails to reach a verdict in Abu Ghraib torture trial

May 4, 2024 at 9:55 am

Prisoners mill around in a common area where they are housed in tents, in the Abu Ghraib prison on July 15, 2004 west of Baghdad, Iraq [Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

After eight days of deliberations following a six-day trial, the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict in the case against a Virginia-based company for its well-documented role in the torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of three Iraqi men held in 2003-2004 at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison during the early months of the US occupation. The lawsuit was filed in 2008 by Iraqi torture victims against CACI Premier Technology Inc., a private contractor the US government hired to provide interrogation services at Abu Ghraib after it invaded Iraq in 2003. The plaintiffs intend to pursue their right to a retrial, according to their attorneys.

Last Saturday marked exactly twenty years since news outlets first broke the story and published the leaked photos and videos that shocked the world. The trial, which began April 15, 2024, followed 16 years of litigation and a featured in-person testimony by plaintiff Salah Al-Ejaili, a journalist, and remote testimony from Iraq by Suhail Al Shimari, a middle school principal, and Asa’ad Zuba’e, a fruit vendor. Their lawyers presented extensive evidence of CACI’s role in the torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment they suffered, including the findings of US military investigators that CACI employees had conspired with US soldiers to “soften up” detained Iraqis. Major General Anthony Taguba, whose investigation and subsequent report first described the findings, also testified in person at the trial.

“It is enough that we tried and didn’t remain silent,” said Salah Al-Ejaili. “We might not have received justice yet in our just case today, but what is more important is that we made it to trial and spoke up so the world could hear from us directly. This will not be the final word; what happened in Abu Ghraib is engraved into our memories and will never be forgotten in history. Every just person stands with us. I wish to thank the legal team and everyone that helped us along the way: you gave a lot for this case and believed that justice is possible, which is a big thing.”

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The last remaining lawsuit of its kind, Al Shimari v. CACI overcame more than 20 attempts by CACI to have it dismissed and five trips to the court of appeals to make it to trial. In fact, this was the first time that victims of the United States’ post-9/11 torture testified in a US courtroom.

Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and lead counsel for the plaintiffs said, “We are of course disappointed by the jury’s failure to reach a unanimous verdict in favor of our plaintiffs despite the wealth of evidence that CACI bears responsibility for the horrible abuses our clients suffered. But we remain awed by the courage of our clients, who have fought for justice for their torment for 16 years, and who testified so powerfully in a United States court. Their struggle and their bravery to take on and speak the truth against so many powerful forces aligned against them is a testament to the human capacity to fight against injustice committed against themselves and other marginalized communities. We look forward to the opportunity to present our case again.”

The plaintiffs brought their case under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS),  a federal law from 1789 that allows foreign nationals to file lawsuits in US courts for certain violations of international law. The Supreme Court has narrowed the scope of the ATS three times in recent years, most recently in 2021.

“Throughout this litigation, CACI has sought to deflect any responsibility for its role in the torture at Abu Ghraib, claiming that because it was hired to work with the US military, only the military bears any responsibility for the cruelty Iraqi detainees suffered there,” said Katherine Gallagher, a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “This is not what the law says, and CACI should be held responsible for its employees’ role in the abuses.”

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