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Will Abu Ghraib Torture Victims Finally Get Their Day in Court? CACI Lawsuit Will Proceed to Trial

StoryAugust 08, 2023
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A federal lawsuit brought by Iraqi torture survivors appears finally headed to trial after a federal judge refused to dismiss the case last week. The Iraqis are suing the U.S. military contractor CACI, which provided interrogators at Abu Ghraib, the notorious Iraqi prison where the men were tortured by U.S. guards. The lawsuit, which alleges CACI was complicit in that torture, was first filed in 2008. Since then, CACI has attempted 18 times to have the case dismissed. Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing the torture survivors in the case, says the men suffered a range of abuse including sexual humiliation, beatings and more. “They’re all suffering the aftereffects, psychological and physical, of their time at Abu Ghraib,” he says.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We end today’s show with a federal lawsuit brought by Iraqi torture survivors that appears to finally be heading to trial, after a federal judge refused to dismiss the case. The Center for Constitutional Rights and four Iraqi men are suing the U.S. military contractor CACI, which was hired to provide interrogation services at Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison where the men were tortured by U.S. guards. The lawsuit was first filed in 2008, 15 years ago. Since then, CACI has attempted 18 times to have the case dismissed.

This is one of the plaintiffs in the case, Salah al-Ejaili, speaking on Democracy Now! almost a decade ago, talking about what he endured at Abu Ghraib in November of 2003. He was working as a journalist for Al Jazeera, had traveled to Iraq’s Diyala province to report on the U.S. invasion. It was there that U.S. soldiers detained him. He said when he asked what he was being taken in for, their response was “You know the reason.” He was ultimately transferred to Abu Ghraib. When I spoke to him a decade later, he was in Doha, Qatar. I asked him about his time in captivity.

SALAH HASSAN AL-EJAILI: [translated] Throughout my detainment in the solitary cells, there was an interrogation every two or three days. During these interrogations, we were subjected to many psychological and physical torture methods. One of these methods was that you were kept naked, handcuffed, the hood on your head, then they would bring a big dog. You hear the panting and barking of the dog very close to your face. This is one of the methods of torture and interrogation that they conducted. There are many other similar cases.

AMY GOODMAN: How long were you held like this?

SALAH HASSAN AL-EJAILI: [translated] These interrogations that happened every two or three days would last for an hour, an hour and a half or two hours, in this manner. The details of the interrogations were different. In some cases, they would bring dogs, then start the interrogation. In other cases, they’d put you in a place and throw cold water or hot tea on you, then start the interrogation. But, of course, all the interrogations were conducted while you were kept naked and hooded, and they’d ask you questions to which you answer. I stayed for 40 days in a solitary cell, and 70% of that time I was kept naked.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Salah Hassan of Al Jazeera, also known as Salah al-Ejaili.

Well, for more, we’re joined by Baher Azmy. He is legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, representing the Abu Ghraib plaintiffs in the case.

Baher, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain the significance of the judge once again saying, “No, the lawsuit will not be thrown out,” as CACI has attempted 18 times to do it.

BAHER AZMY: Thanks, Amy, for continuing to pay attention to this now-epic struggle by our clients to get justice, some measure of justice.

Yeah, what the court held here, and has held repeatedly, is that the plaintiffs here, our clients, have presented sufficient evidence that they were subject to torture at Abu Ghraib and that there was a connection between the military police, some of which were featured on the pictures that we’ve all come to be horrified by — there was a connection between the military police and CACI interrogators sent from headquarters in the United States, insofar as those interrogators, the CACI interrogators, were ordering the military police, who were acting as guards, to, quote, “soften up” detainees in the night shift at Abu Ghraib, where there was, as military commanders found investigating the war crimes at Abu Ghraib, a command vacuum. So the court has found that there was sufficient evidence of torture, sufficient evidence connecting the torture to CACI interrogators and domestic headquarters, and has cleared away any, I think, remaining obstacles to this case finally going to trial and our clients speaking openly in court.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about your clients. Start with Salah, who we just saw, who we interviewed like 10 years ago. Where is he today? What happened to him and the others?

BAHER AZMY: Yeah, so, we represent, in this case, four detainees. We had prior cases, representing nearly 200 individuals, that was thrown out by a D.C. federal appellate panel, and in the majority was Kavanaugh, and in dissent was Garland. We brought another case on behalf of 71 Iraqi citizens against a translation company. That’s the Al-Quraishi case. That settled favorably. And this case is on behalf of now three — regrettably, one of the four plaintiffs was dismissed — individuals who were in the “hard site” at Abu Ghraib. This is against CACI specifically. And all three plaintiffs were swept up in the chaos after the occupation, ultimately found their way to Abu Ghraib and suffered the range of tactics, interrogation tactics and violence tactics, that cumulatively amounted to torture, so sleep deprivation, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, temperature manipulation and outright beatings.

And Salah, in particular, has found his way to Sweden with his family, now has residence there. They’re all suffering the aftereffects, psychological and physical, of their time in Abu Ghraib 20 years hence. But Salah and the others are really seriously looking forward to appearing in a U.S. court and telling a jury and the American public about what happened to them.

AMY GOODMAN: Baher, can you talk about the email sent by a CACI employee? The judge in the case, Leonie Brinkema, has said this could really be a smoking gun, the CACI employee writing an email to his boss outlining what he had witnessed, apparently resigning in protest, the judge said. Brinkema said she was amazed that no one at CACI seemed to follow up on the employee’s concerns. CACI lawyers have disputed that the email, which is not publicly available, is incriminating. Talk about what CACI is, how it was involved, and what their argument is.

BAHER AZMY: Yeah, so, CACI now, which is a huge — continues to have huge contracts with the United States government around surveillance and technology and border technology, at the time was hired to provide interrogation services under contract with the U.S. government and sent over highly unqualified but comparatively senior private contractors that took command of the military police and ordered these kinds of abuses to extract — to soften up the detainees and extract intelligence.

So, the question in recent years, as a result of Supreme Court rulings, is to what extent is corporate domestic conduct related or perpetuating what happened abroad, for purposes of, you know, this jurisdictional question. And Judge Brinkema, in a prior hearing, did single out an email going back and forth between on the ground at Abu Ghraib and headquarters pointing out the seriousness of interrogator conduct there, sounding the alarm to headquarters, which, we say, the headquarters largely ignored and covered up and continued to deny to this day.

AMY GOODMAN: Baher, I wanted to show an image — and for radio listeners, they can go to — of the plaintiff we heard, Salah, Salah al-Ejaili, Salah Hassan, hooded in Abu Ghraib with his vomit at his feet. Where did this photo come from?

BAHER AZMY: This came from the discovery process in the case. There are not many photos that, you know, specifically identify our plaintiffs, but this is one of them. As you see, he’s prostate, suffering, hooded, bound, in the humiliating physical and psychological set of techniques that were so prevalent in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and that he and the other plaintiffs had to endure.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we are going to continue to follow this, as we have for these years, a case that is now moving forward after 15 years. Baher Azmy, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, representing the Abu Ghraib plaintiffs in this case against CACI. For two decades, he’s been part of a team challenging the U.S. government over the rights of Guantánamo prisoners, discriminatory policing practices, government surveillance and the rights of asylum seekers and accountability for victims of torture, and representing these Abu Ghraib prisoners, as well.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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