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Federal court rejects Abu Ghraib detainees' lawsuit against contractors

[JURIST] A federal appeals court on Friday rejected [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit brought against private contractors by Iraqi plaintiffs alleging torture at the Abu Ghraib prison [JURIST news archive]. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [official website] held that federal law concerning "combatant activities" preempted the state tort claims brought by the former detainees. Redefining the test set out in the district court opinion, the DC Circuit ruled that, during wartime, tort claims arising out of a private service contractor's activities, over which the military holds command authority, shall be preempted. On appeal, the plaintiffs claimed [brief, PDF] that Titan Corporation and CACI International [corporate website] were liable for "serious abuse" occurring during their stay in the prison facility. They additionally asserted that the district court erred in failing to consider breach of contract and the military's inability to control or discipline contractual employees. A dissenting justice argued that employees of private contractors are not immune from civil lawsuits since they are not within the military's chain of command.

The actions of private military contractors in Iraq are considered to have been the impetus behind provisions in the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement [PDF; JURIST report] that grant Iraqi courts limited jurisdiction over foreign contractors. In June, Iraqi authorities released three private contractors from custody [JURIST report] due to insufficient evidence that they killed another contractor in Baghdad's Green Zone. In May, US military contractor Don Ayala was sentenced [JURIST report] in US federal court to five years probation and a $12,500 fine after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the 2008 shooting of an Afghan detainee.

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