Rumsfeld told Congress in 2004 that he had found a way to compensate Iraqi detainees who suffered "grievous and brutal abuse and cruelty at the hands of a few members of the United States armed forces." But the U.S. Army subsequently has been unable to document a single U.S. government payment for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
This week, the U.S. Army Claims Service said it has 36 claims from former detainees in Iraq, none of them related to alleged physical abuse. From the budget years 2003 to 2006, the Defense Department paid $30.9 million to Iraqi and Afghan civilians who were killed, injured, or incurred property damage due to U.S. or coalition forces' actions during combat.
In the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, lawyers for the Iraqis filed a number of lawsuits against L-3 Services and another company, CACI International Inc. of Arlington, Va., but the cases were quickly hung up on an underlying question: whether defense contractors working side by side with the U.S. military can be sued for claims arising in a war zone. The U.S. government is immune from suits stemming from combatant activities of the military in time of war.
Courts are still sorting out whether contractors in a war zone should be accorded legal immunity from being sued, just as the government is immune.
But a turning point in the cases involving L-3 and CACI came last May. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled 11-3 that more facts must be developed before the appeals court could consider the defense contractor's request to dismiss the lawsuit.
In the case against CACI, four Iraqis who say they were tortured are seeking compensation from the company, which provided interrogators to the U.S. military during the war. CACI has chosen to continue its fight against the lawsuit. Azmy said a trial is expected this summer.
In its defense four years ago against the lawsuit, L-3 said the fact that the claims in the case "cannot be brought against the government means that they also cannot be brought against L-3."
"No court in the United States has allowed aliens — detained on the battlefield or in the course of postwar occupation and military operations by the U.S. military — to seek damages for their detention," the company told the federal court four years ago. "Yet these plaintiffs bring claims seeking money damages for their detention and treatment while in the custody of the U.S. military in the midst of a belligerent occupation in Iraq."
Allowing the case to proceed "would require a wholly unprecedented injection of the judiciary into wartime military operations and occupation conduct against the local population, in particular the conditions of confinement and interrogation for intelligence gathering," L-3 added.
Associated Press investigative researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report.
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