Justice watch: Keeping an eye on the law

US court dismisses 1991 POW suit

WASHINGTON - An appeals court panel threw out a $959 million judgment earlier this month for US prisoners of war who say they were tortured by the Iraqi military during the 1991 Gulf War, ruling Congress never authorized such lawsuits against foreign governments (see Monitor story Nov. 19, 2003).

The US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned a lower court ruling that said 17 former POWs and 37 family members were entitled to the damages under a federal statute allowing suits involving countries which financed or aided terrorists.

The three-judge panel said the statute allows lawsuits for pain and suffering only if they are filed against agents and officers of those foreign states responsible for the torture who are not acting on behalf of their government. Thus, even though the lawsuit also names Saddam Hussein, he is immune because the POWs sued him for his alleged activities as Iraq's president, the panel said.

"We are mindful of the gravity of [the POWs'] allegations in this case. That appellees endured this suffering while acting in service to their country is all the more sobering," Judge Harry Edwards stated in the opinion.

The POWs in the lawsuit, which also named the Iraqi Intelligence Service, say they endured severe beatings, starvation, electric shock, and continual threats of dismemberment and death.

The Iraqi government never appeared in US court, leading to the default judgment last July. But the Justice Department intervened after the POWs sought to be paid from frozen Iraqi assets, saying the money was needed to rebuild Iraq.

One POW in the suit, retired Air Force Col. David Eberly, said, "This is difficult to take." "We served without question and withstood the worst the Iraqi torturers handed out.... I am also concerned ... as future torturers may now believe that the United States will not stand behind its servicemen and women."

Abu Ghraib declared a crime scene

BAGHDAD - A military judge Monday declared Abu Ghraib prison a crime scene and ordered that it not be destroyed - a move President Bush had offered to help remove the stain of torture and abuse from Iraq.

The judge, Col. James Pohl, issued the order during a hearing for Sgt. Javal Davis, one of three defendants.

President Bush had offered to tear down Abu Ghraib and build a new prison to eliminate the legacy of torture and abuse that the facility developed under Saddam Hussein and because of the current scandal.

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