[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] on Wednesday dismissed two cases filed by former Iraqi detainees who claimed they had been tortured by civilian contractors at the Abu Ghraib prison [JURIST news archive] near Baghdad. The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 to dismiss both cases, filed against contractors CACI International Inc. and L-3 Services [opinions, PDF], holding that federal law protecting civilian contractors acting under the control of the US military in a combat situation preempted the plaintiffs’ tort claims based in state law. Circuit Judge Paul Neimeyer wrote the opinions and emphasized the importance of federal interests in the case:
The potential liability under state law of military contractors for actions taken in connection with U.S. military operations overseas would similarly affect the availability and costs of using contract workers in conjunction with military operations. In this case, that uniquely federal interest was especially important in view of the recognized shortage of military personnel and the need for assistance in interrogating detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. Not only would potential tort liability against such contractors affect military costs and efficiencies and contractors’ availability, it would also present the possibility that military commanders could be hauled into civilian courts for the purpose of evaluating and differentiating between military and contractor decisions. That effort could become extensive if contractor employees and the military worked side by side in questioning detainees under military control, as the complaint alleges in this case. Moreover, such interference with uniquely federal interests would be aggravated by the prison’s location in the war zone. Finally, potential liability under state tort law would undermine the flexibility that military necessity requires in determining the methods for gathering intelligence.
Circuit Judge Robert King filed a dissenting opinion, arguing that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to decide the issue of federal law preemption.
US military personnel have also been accused of torturing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison. Army Spc. Charles Graner [JURIST news archive], the convicted ringleader of abuses committed at the prison, was released [JURIST report] last month for good behavior after serving more than six-and-a-half years of his 10-year sentence. Graner was convicted [JURIST report] in 2005 of conspiracy, assault, maltreating prisoners, dereliction of duty and committing indecent acts and received the longest sentence of the six others involved in the abuses. In June, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] initiated a grand jury investigation [JURIST report] into the torture and death of a detainee at Abu Ghraib. Manadel Al-Jamadi was captured [JURIST report] by US Navy SEALs in 2003 and held in Abu Ghraib as a “ghost detainee,” or unregistered prisoner, for his suspected involvement in the bombing of a Red Cross center in Baghdad that killed 12 people. The US military has never revealed the exact circumstances of his death, which was ruled a homicide [JURIST report]. Reports show he died while suspended by his wrists, which were handcuffed behind his back.