Today, a Virginia federal judge ruled that the treatment of three Iraqi individuals formerly detained at the infamous “hard site” at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq constitutes torture, war crimes, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, based on a thorough review of U.S. domestic and international law. The ruling also held that the men have sufficiently alleged that employees of private military contractor CACI Premier Technology conspired to commit and aided and abetted these crimes. The case, Al Shimari v. CACI, was filed nearly ten years ago, and CACI has repeatedly argued that, even if its employees were involved in torture and other abuse, the company is shielded from liability. Today’s 54-page ruling definitively rejected that position, as well as attempts by certain Bush-era officials to water down the prohibition against torture, and allowed the lawsuit to proceed against CACI.
“The decision is a historic judicial rebuke to the Bush administration’s torture paradigm, which had sought to evade the well-established prohibitions against torture, and is one of the clearest statements in the post-9/11 era that victims of torture and grave human rights abuses can access the courts for a remedy,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy. “The court confirmed what was plain to the eye: that the horrific treatment our clients endured at Abu Ghraib was unlawful and that, in a country operating under the rule of law, those responsible can be held accountable.”
While a number of low-level military officers were court-martialed over their roles in the abuse, CACI has gone unpunished – and continues to reap millions of dollars in government contracts – even though U.S. military investigators long ago concluded that CACI interrogators conspired with the U.S. soldiers who were later court martialed to “soften up” detainees for interrogations, according to statements by co-conspirators. A U.S. Army general referred to the treatment as “sadistic, blatant, and wanton” criminal abuses.
Today’s opinion includes a detailed account of what happened to CCR’s clients, Suhail Al Shimari, Asa’ad Al-Zuba’e, and Salah Al-Ejaili, including:
[being] subjected to repeated stress positions, including at least one that made [Plaintiff Al-Ejaili] vomit black liquid; sexually-related humiliation; disruptive sleeping patterns and long periods of being kept naked or without food or water; and multiple instances of being threatened with dogs…being doused with hot and cold liquids…sexual assault and threats of rape; being left in a cold shower until [Plaintiff Zuba’e] was unable to stand; dog bites and repeated beatings, including with sticks and to the genitals…at least one [stress position] that lasted an entire day and resulted in [Zuba’e] urinating and defecating on himself; and threats that his family would be brought to Abu Ghraib…systematic beatings…with a baton and rifle, [being] he was hit against the wall; [being] forced to kneel on sharp stones, causing lasting damage to [Plaintiff Al Shimari’s] legs; …being kept in a dark cell and with loud music nearby; threats of being shot… electric shocks; being dragged around the prison by a rope tied around [Al Shimari’s] neck; and having fingers inserted into [Al Shimari’s] rectum.
The Court concluded: “it is clear that the abuse suffered by plaintiffs was intended to inflict severe pain or suffering and rises to the level of torture.”
Al Shimari v. CACI was filed under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which allows non-U.S. citizens to sue for violations of international law committed abroad that “touch and concern” the United States. The opinion concludes that the political question doctrine is inapplicable to “cognizable claims” under the ATS.
Published on CCR on February 21, 2018
The Associated Press reported today that US forces were involved in the interrogation of detainees held in secret prisons in Yemen where torture is widespread. The centers are run by United Arab Emirati (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces.
The details are grotesque: Prisoners in these centers were “crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks,” beaten, and trussed up on a “grill” – a spit like a roast to which the victim is tied and spun in a circle of fire, the article says. Prisoners were also sexually assaulted, among other forms of abuse. The article also alleges that some prisoners were transferred to a ship where US “polygraph experts” and “psychological experts” conducted interrogations.
It’s a grim reminder that, not long ago, the US Central Intelligence Agency and US military were directly involved in equally depraved torture programs.
In this case, the US is trying to wash its hands of responsibility.
The US has officially denied knowledge of the torture and ill-treatment in the Yemeni centers. But that claim doesn’t fly, as the article says several US Defense Department officials confirmed that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Those officials, however, worked to minimize US responsibility, saying military leaders looked into the allegations and were satisfied there had been no abuse “when US forces [were] present.”
Again, no pass. If US forces are interrogating individuals when there is a credible belief they may have been tortured, they risk complicity in the abuse.
Human Rights Watch, journalists, and other groups have extensivelydocumented torture and enforced disappearances in detention facilities run by the UAE and local forces. Today, we released a report on our investigation of the detention and forced disappearance of 49 people – including four children – in Yemen.
The alleged US involvement would violate international law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Convention against Torture, both of which the US has ratified. If there is one thing the US should have learned from its post 9/11 history, it’s that engaging in torture, or cooperating with forces that torture, is counterproductive, helps militant group recruitment, and fosters instability and abuse. Information derived from torture is also inherently unreliable, generating false leads and wasted resources.
By ignoring these lessons, the Trump administration is also putting its military personnel at risk of future prosecution for complicity in torture.
Published on HRW on June 22, 2017.
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to “bring back waterboarding, and a hell of a lot worse.” That was a red line for us.
Immediately after the election, we mobilized our long-time partners: the coalition of retired military leaders, who over the years have helped us change the debate—and U.S. policy—on torture. The group we assembled for this mission—176 retired flag officers, including 33 four-star generals and Admirals—had more than 6,000 years of combined experience, and a clear message for Mr. Trump: The United States would not return to “the dark side.”
In a letter to the president-elect, they said, “Our greatest strength is our commitment to the rule of law and to the principles embedded in our Constitution. Our servicemen and women need to know that our leaders do not condone torture or detainee abuse of any kind.”
We worked behind the scenes to provide that letter to the president-elect, his cabinet nominees and top aides, and congressional leaders. Our strategy was to ensure that to win confirmation, cabinet nominees would have to reject torture unconditionally.
We succeeded. All five national security nominees— for CIA Director, Attorney General and Secretary of Defense, State, and Homeland Security—stated during their confirmation hearings that so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques are illegal and unacceptable. CIA Director nominee Mike Pompeo, previously a supporter of the torture program, went so far as to say that if the president ordered him to restart it, he would refuse.
Later, when a leaked draft Executive Order showed that President Trump intended to bring back torture, there was a bipartisan outcry. In declaring their opposition, several senators cited the 2015 McCain-Feinstein amendment, which we spearheaded. Supported by 87 Senators and signed by President Obama, that bill bolstered the ban on torture and rebuilt the bipartisan consensus against it.
The law grew out of another of our advocacy efforts: securing declassification and release of the key parts of the Senate intelligence committee’s landmark report on the CIA torture program. We were able to quash President Trump’s attempt to bring back torture because we had been leading on this issue for years.
Published on Human Rights First's website on May 8, 2017.