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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

U.S. Government Sides with Private Contractors against Abu Ghraib Torture Victims

Saleh v. Titan, a class action lawsuit against two corporate government contractors filed on behalf of over 250 alleged Abu Ghraib torture victims, is currently awaiting Supreme Court review.

The named plaintiff, Haidar Saleh, was tortured by Saddam Hussein at the Abu Ghraib prison, fled to the United States, repatriated to Iraq at the encouragement of the U.S. government after Hussein’s downfall, and in a cruel twist of fate was subsequently detained and tortured by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib. This lawsuit sought to hold Titan Corporation and CACI International Inc. liable for providing interrogation and translation services which contributed the plaintiff’s abuse.

In 2009, a panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismissed all claims against both defendants, including causes of action under state tort law and the federal Alien Tort Statute. After the plaintiffs filed a writ of certiorari in 2010, the Supreme Court invited the government to weigh in with a brief expressing the federal government’s position.

Unfortunately, on May 27, the government’s brief urged the Supreme Court to decline to consider the appeal. While the brief detailed the abuses the plaintiffs suffered and characterized the Circuit Court’s holding as “unclear and imprecise and... potentially misguided,” the government nonetheless urged the Supreme Court to decline to hear the case until a split develops among circuit courts. Given the important question involved – whether private contractors who participate and contribute to abuse and torture are immune from liability – victims of torture and abuse should have their day before the Court.

The plaintiffs are represented by Katherine Gallagher of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Susan L. Burke and Katherine Hawkins of Burke LLC, and Shereef Akeel, of Akeel & Valentine, PLC.

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