Detainees abused by US soldiers in Iraq get their day in court

US Soldier Lynndie England pointing to a naked prisoner being forced to masturbate in front of her (left) and soldiers Sabrina Harman and Charles Graner pose for a photo behind naked Iraqi detainees forced to form a human pyramid. (Wikipedia)

Twenty years ago this month, photos depicting the mistreatment of prisoners by US soldiers at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison were released, setting in motion a snowball effect of scandals, court martials, memes and other social aftershocks that would forever mar the reputation of the US Military abroad.

Now, three survivors of Abu Ghraib are set to begin their trial in US District Court in Alexandria, marking the first time survivors bring claims of torture to a US jury, stated Baher Azmy, a lawyer from the Center for Constitutional Rights representing the plaintiffs.

CACI, the defendant in the civil suit, provided interrogators to the prison but denies any wrongdoing, emphasizing throughout 16 years of litigation that its employees were not implicated in the abuse.

The plaintiffs aim to hold CACI responsible for creating conditions conducive to the torture they experienced, citing government investigations indicating CACI contractors instructed military police to prepare detainees for interrogation.

Retired Army Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led an investigation into the scandal, is expected to testify, asserting that at least one CACI interrogator should be held accountable for directing military police to engage in abusive behavior.

The abuse depicted in the released photos included naked prisoners in pyramids, detainees dragged by leashes, and soldiers posing with corpses. Plaintiffs’ descriptions of mistreatment include sexual assaults, beatings, electric shocks, and forced stress positions that caused vomiting.

CACI maintains that the US military bears responsibility for conditions at Abu Ghraib and argues its employees were not in a position to give orders to soldiers.

According to the Associated Press, the case has undergone numerous legal challenges since 2008, with CACI attempting roughly 20 times to have it dismissed. The US Supreme Court in 2021 rejected CACI’s appeals, returning the case to district court for trial.

CACI argued sovereign immunity against torture claims, but the district judge ruled that the government cannot claim immunity for actions violating international norms, denying CACI derivative immunity.

Jurors are expected to hear testimony from soldiers convicted in military court of inflicting abuse, including Ivan Frederick, whose deposition testimony will be played as he declined to attend voluntarily.

Government lawyers may object to certain evidence during the trial, citing state secrets that could harm national security if disclosed.

Of the three plaintiffs, only Al-Ejaili is expected to testify in person, while the others will testify remotely from Iraq. Their reasons for being sent to Abu Ghraib are deemed irrelevant and will not be presented to jurors.

All three were released after detention periods ranging from two months to a year without charges filed against them.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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