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Federal court denies military contractor motion to dismiss Abu Ghraib torture suit

[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] ruled [order, PDF] in an order made public Thursday that defense contractor CACI International [corporate website] is not immune from a lawsuit brought by Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive] torture victims, denying CACI's motion to dismiss. Judge Gerald Bruce Lee held that the four plaintiffs could go forward with their suit based on allegedly torturous interrogative techniques conducted by CACI. The defense contractor claimed "derivative absolute official immunity" on the grounds that they were performing "a discretionary function within the scope of their government contract" and that the "public benefit of immunity for contractor interrogators outweighs the cost of ignoring a potential injustice should Plaintiffs' claims go unremedied and unaddressed." Lee rejected the argument that CACI was acting within their discretionary scope due to a lack of such evidence at the current stage of litigation. Lee also rejected the public benefit argument, holding that while "in some circumstances, government contractors are immune from liability while performing their government contracts," a balancing test must be applied to weigh the public benefits associated with such immunity with the need to hold individuals "accountable for their wrongful acts." The court addressed the public interest in immunity by finding that:

[t]he public outcry against the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib was strong and compelling. Photographs of detainee abuse scarred the national conscience, leading to the publication of numerous books, newspaper and magazine articles and at least one congressional investigation. On the limited record currently before the Court, the Court cannot say that the public has a stronger interest in recognizing immunity than it does in allowing Plaintiffs' suit to proceed.
CACI responded to the judgment [press release], stating its intent to "vigorously pursue all of its legal alternatives to defend itself and vindicate the company's good name."

Abu Ghraib was reopened in February [JURIST report] by the Iraqi government with promises to uphold international human rights standards. The four detainees filed their suit [JURIST report] last year against CACI and L-3 Services but later dismissed the claim against L-3 [notice of dismissal]. CACI defends themselves [text] on their website, denying their involvement in Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan, the extent of their authority at Abu Ghraib, and other allegations. CACI sued Air America for defamation [JURIST report] last year, losing on First Amendment grounds. The court found this prior suit to be contradictory to the company's claim that the current litigation is clouded by the "fog of war."

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