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Iraqi Prisoners Seek Compensation in U.S. Courts

Iraqi Prisoners Seek Compensation in U.S. Courts

By Sonia Nettnin

When the media exposed the photographs of Abu Ghraib prisoners, the international community showed outrage. Soon afterward, the U.S. Army released the investigative Taguba Report, written by Major General Antonio Taguba, which details the U.S. prison abuses in Iraq.

Now the Iraqi, victimized detainees have an attorney. His name is Shereef H. Akeel. On Friday, he spoke at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Akeel talked about his recent fact-finding mission in Iraq, where he interviewed more than 50 detainees. He said he listened to narrations of torture, rape, humiliation, and religious desecration.

On behalf of the victimized detainees the Center for Constitutional Rights, a human rights organization based in New York, filed a class-action lawsuit against two, U.S.-based contractors -- CACI International Inc. and Titan Corp. -- in a federal, U.S. district court on June 9, 2004. The U.S. government contracted out CACI and Titan for intelligence gatherings. The former was for interrogations and the latter was for translation-interpretation services. Their employees are implicated in the abuse allegations.

The following day CACI issued a news release titled, “CACI Rejects Lawsuit as Slanderous and Malicious Frivolous suit based on false statements, conjecture and speculation.” It states: “CACI rejects and denies the allegations of the suit as being a malicious recitation of false statements and intentional distortions.” It further explains that “the company has not, nor have any of its employees, been charged with any wrongdoing or illegal acts relating to any work in Iraq.”

Moreover, a Titan Corp. spokesperson stated the corporation believes the lawsuit is “frivolous.”

In March 2004 Mr. Saleh, a Swedish citizen who is an Iraqi national, visited Akeel’s Detroit-based, law office. Akeel describes Saleh as a staunch supporter of democracy who opposed the Saddam Hussein regime.

“I want my money…I was in Abu Ghraib,” Saleh said. He showed Akeel a laminated wristband regarding his detention.

Akeel listened to Mr. Saleh, who narrated unspeakable crimes.

“It was so unbelievable I was convinced he did not make it up,” Akeel said.

In fall 2003, Saleh returned to Iraq. He brought $79,000 with him. While in U.S. custody, Saleh said they tore up his passport and they stole his money. On Saleh’s behalf, Akeel filed a reparations claim for more than $100,000 under the U.S. Foreign Military Claim Act.

Last April, the photos of Abu Ghraib detainees surfaced on the CBS program “60 Minutes.” U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld banned cameras from the prisons.

Akeel talked about a 15-year-old boy who said he was tortured and sodomized in July 2004. Akeel conducted further interviews with detainees in August 2004. He asserts there are common, fact-pattern-narrations by the victims in at least 23 detention centers.

When asked if the detainees interviewed are in prison for charges or convictions of insurgency, Akeel said not one person was charged or convicted of insurgency. During the lecture, he explained that failed moral responsibility has allowed the U.S. to be an exporter of sub-contractor torture.

The pivotal question is thus: what is the value of a human being?

In the United States, people voice concerns about their civil rights and liberties. Yet, Americans lose sight of human beings who are not U.S. citizens and who do not live on American soil.

In the post 09/11 world, the issue of social responsibility is a topic of many political debates and social discussions. Akeel’s comparative analysis is that corporations maximize their bottom lines for their shareholders, even if it involves wrongdoing. Through measured results, they show this maximization. However, unlawful behavior contends with social responsibility from an international perspective.

According to Akeel, U.S. attorneys are foot soldiers of the U.S. Constitution, but they are “…foot soldiers of the Geneva Conventions and international human rights.” Globalization and the interdependency inherent in global economics is a key role in legal expansion.

People in search of a definition for torture should read an article written by Mark E. Wojcik for the Illinois State Bar Association’s newsletter, “Constitutional Law and Liberty.” Wojcik is the Director of Global Legal Studies at JMLS and his article is titled, “Torture and war crimes – Violations of international law and our constitutional values.”

He writes:

"In 2000, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Appeals Chamber affirmed the elements of the crime of torture in the situation of armed conflict:

'(1)…the infliction, by act or omission, of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental; in addition

(2) this act or omission must be intentional;

(3) it must aim at obtaining information or a confession, or at punishing, intimidating, humiliating or coercing a victim or a third person, or at discriminating, on any ground, against the victim or a third person;

(4) it must be linked to armed conflict…'"

and the definition is a point of reference for examination.

Wojcik introduced Akeel at the lecture; and he explained what constitutes the address of human rights abuses.

Akeel states his clients were tortured, sodomized, raped, beaten, urinated upon . . . the list is extensive.

Through detailed research, Akeel resurfaced the 215-year-old U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789. The statute, in layman’s terms, means people subjected to violations of international law overseas (not on American soil) have a right to file a tort (wrongful act) claim in a U.S. court. Since the U.S. Foreign Court Claim Act allows victims to seek compensation for crimes committed on American soil, the Alien Tort Claims Act gives victims more leverage. This statute, along with the RICO Act (pertains to unlawful activity of organized crime), will be used as legal redress for the alleged perpetration of conduct by the implicated employees of these corporations.

Akeel talked at great length about accountability and responsibility. He provided U.S. legislative history on these statutes and laws.

“Congress recognized back in the ‘90s that they need to shed some light on this statute,” he said. It is an important act with regards to liability and damages.

For several reasons, Akeel accepted this case. “It is important to send the message that America has a process to seek legal redress,” he said. “It’s vital these claims succeed.”


The Center for Constitutional Rights works with Akeel and the legal team. The JMLS International Law Society, Amnesty International, the Muslim Law Students Association, the American Constitution Society, and JMLS’ Global Legal Studies sponsored the lecture.

Additional resource information can be found at:

Center for Constitutional Rights

UN Convention Against Torture

Sworn Statements by Abu Ghraib Detainees

Army’s Fay Report

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