By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 12, 2009
A federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit Friday against CACI International that accused the firm's employees of taking part in the torture and abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
In a 2 to 1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the case on the grounds that CACI should be immune from prosecution because the company's employees were under U.S. military authority.
"During wartime," wrote Judge Laurence H. Silberman, "where a private service contractor is integrated into combatant activities over which the military retains command authority, a tort claim arising out of the contractor's engagement in such activities shall be preempted."
The decision reversed a lower court's ruling in March that the company must face a lawsuit filed by former detainees who claim that they were tortured at the detention center near Baghdad.
Ever since the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted in May 2004, CACI has maintained that it was not involved in the facility's mistreatment of its detainees, a stance the firm repeated Friday. The Arlington-based government contractor had provided interrogators to the U.S. military in Iraq.
"The court's decision today is an important step toward resolving all legal matters regarding the company's mission and duties in Iraq," Jody Brown, executive vice president for public relations at CACI, said in a statement. "We have said from day one that these lawsuits are completely without merit and designed to pursue a political agenda."
The attorney who argued the case on behalf of the Abu Ghraib detainees, Susan L. Burke, said on Friday that her legal team intends to file for an "en banc" review of the case, under which all nine of the court's judges would hear the appeal.
"We are cautiously optimistic that we will receive en banc review and that it will be reversed," she said. "We anticipate that the majority of jurists hearing the matter will adhere to the rule of law."
"Although we are disappointed, this is an anticipated setback in what will continue to be an ongoing battle against torture," Burke said.
In a dissenting opinion filed Friday, Judge Merrick B. Garland argued that there is no judicial precedent that would prohibit the detainees from suing government contractors.
"The plaintiffs in these cases allege that they were beaten, electrocuted, raped, subjected to attacks by dogs and otherwise abused by private contractors," he wrote. "At the current stage of the litigation we must accept these allegations as true."