Lawyers for Iraqis tortured while in U.S. custody
have sued two private security companies for allegedly abusing prisoners to
extract information from them with the goal of winning more contracts from the
According to the class action lawsuit filed Wednesday by the New York-based
Center for Constitutional Rights
(CCR) and a Philadelphia law firm, the corporations conspired with U.S. officials
to "humiliate, torture and abuse persons" detained by U.S. troops in Iraq.
The suit, which was filed in federal court in San Diego, California, names
as defendants the Titan Corporation of San
Diego and CACI International of Arlington, Virginia, that company's subsidiaries
and three individuals who work for the firms.
Lawyers of at least nine Iraqi victims say they are seeking undisclosed compensation
and to have the two companies barred from receiving future contracts from the
The suit accuses the companies of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
Organizations Act (RICO), alleging that they engaged in a wide range of "heinous
and illegal acts in order to demonstrate their abilities to obtain intelligence
from detainees, and thereby obtain more contracts from the government."
RICO is a U.S. law that enables persons financially injured by a pattern of
criminal activity to seek redress through state or federal courts, and penalizes
acts of "racketeering" and other serious crimes.
The lawsuit also charges that three individuals, Stephen Stephanowicz and John
Israel of CACI, Inc., and Adel Nahkla of Titan, directed and participated in
illegal conduct at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
"We believe that CACI and Titan engaged in a conspiracy to torture and abuse
detainees and did so to make more money," said Susan Burke of Montgomery, McCracken,
Walker and Rhoads, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
"It is patently clear that these corporations saw an opportunity to build their
businesses by proving they could extract information from detainees in Iraq,
by any means necessary. In doing so they not only violated a raft of domestic
and international statutes but diminished America's stature and reputation around
The names of the two companies and the three employees appeared in a U.S. Department
of Defense report on abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
A spokesperson for Titan told IPS the company merely provided translation services
for the U.S. government in Iraq and was not in control of Iraqi prisoners.
"We believe the lawsuit is frivolous and we will defend against it vigorously,
and we do not know of any government allegations on this issue nor have we heard
of any government allegation or charge against the single former employee that
is mentioned in the lawsuit," said Titan's Wil Williams.
"We have never had control of prisoners or how they were handled."
While U.S. soldiers have appeared responsible for the atrocities that began
to emerge via still and video photos earlier this spring, more recent pictures
of the abuse of Iraqi detainees are bringing to light the role that the mostly
unregulated private contractors working in occupied Iraq played in the interrogation
Lawyers for some of the soldiers already tried in Iraq for abusing prisoners
said they claimed to be acting in part under the instruction of mercenaries
hired by the Pentagon as interrogators.
One civilian contractor was accused of raping a young male prisoner, but has
not been charged because military law has no jurisdiction over him.
The case filed Wednesday cites the example of 63-year-old Ibrahim, who died
in Abu Ghraib as a result of acts and inaction by the companies. The plaintiff
in this case is the man's estate.
According to the complaint, the plaintiffs suffered at the hands of the defendants
and conspiring government officials.
The victims endured "being hooded and raped" and "being forced to watch their
father tortured and abused so badly that he died."
The complaint also says victims suffered repeated beatings, including with
chains, boots and other objects; "being urinated on and otherwise humiliated,"
and "being prevented from praying and otherwise abiding by their religious practices,"
which included being forced to eat pork and breakfast during the Muslim holy
month of Ramadan.
Muslims, who do not eat pork, are supposed to fast from sunrise to sunset during
"CACI and Titan perpetrated brutal human rights abuses to obtain information,
a practice that is not only barbaric but leads to false confessions," said CCR
Legal Director Jeffrey E. Fogel. "The modern way to describe this is outsourcing
torture; in the old days we'd call these people mercenaries."
Calls to CACI's Arlington headquarters seeking comment were not immediately
CACI and Titan are publicly traded corporations that provide interrogation
and translation services to U.S. government agencies.
Titan, which calls itself a national security company, has about 12 thousand
employees and annual sales of close to $2 billion. CACI, which employs more
than nine thousand people, reported revenues of $843 million in 2003.
According to the complaint, beginning in January 2002 and continuing to the
present, the two companies provided services ranging from interrogation and
interpretation to intelligence gathering and security.
Both firms increasingly profited from government contracts. Titan, for example,
developed a unit known as "National Security Solutions," whose revenue grew
21 percent in 2003.
The lawsuit comes only days after a leaked memo, written by the administration's
legal experts and seen by IPS, said U.S. President George Bush was not obligated
to abide by international treaties or U.S. laws against torture of prisoners
if they were a threat to the country's national security.
Testifying yesterday before Congress, Attorney General John Ashcroft refused
to disclose or discuss the unclassified 2002 Justice Department memorandum to
the White House, which describes legal justifications for torture.
Ashcroft, though, acknowledged the document was not confidential advice to
the president and was "widely distributed throughout the executive branch."
Rights groups have been increasingly accusing senior administration officials
of being behind the atrocities.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a new report Wednesday that torture and mistreatment
of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was a result of the Bush administration's decision
to dodge international law.
The 38-page report, "The Road to Abu Ghraib," examines how the administration
adopted a deliberate policy of permitting illegal interrogation techniques,
and then spent two years covering up or ignoring reports of torture and other
abuse by U.S. troops.
"The horrors of Abu Ghraib were not simply the acts of individual soldiers,"
said HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth in a statement. "Abu Ghraib resulted
from decisions made by the Bush administration to cast the rules aside."
Until the publication of the Abu Ghraib photographs, administration officials
took at best a "see no evil, hear no evil" approach to reports of detainee mistreatment,
the report added. From the earliest days of the war in Afghanistan and the occupation
of Iraq, the U.S. government has covered up or failed to act on repeated, serious
allegations of torture and abuse, it said.