Abu Ghraib Torture Lawsuits Name U.S. Workers

Lawsuits will be filed in the U.S. on behalf of four Iraqis who say they were tortured at Abu Ghraib prison. The suits name employees of U.S. firms CACI and L-3 Titan. Lawyers have been meeting with their clients in Turkey to prepare the suits.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Four former Iraqi prisoners are filing lawsuits in American courts today. The Iraqis say they were tortured in the Abu Ghraib prison, which is run by the U.S. military. But they're not suing the military; they're suing civilian defense contractors who they claim tortured them.

NPR's Ivan Watson spoke with some of the foreign prisoners in Istanbul and he filed this story.

IVAN WATSON: Suhail Najim was released last March with an apology and no formal charges after he spent four and a half in U.S. military prisons in Iraq.

During the first two years of his detention, Najim says he was repeatedly tortured, once, he claims, with an electric prod.

NORRIS: (Through translator) I was brought into a room and asked to kneel. I was handcuffed. After every one or two questions, the interrogator would tell me I was lying. Then he would apply electricity to my chest, stomach and arms. I still have scars from the burns.

WATSON: Today, Najim's lawyers filed a lawsuit in the state of Ohio against the Virginia-based company CACI International and against an Ohio resident named Timothy Dugan. Dugan worked as a civilian interrogator for CACI at Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004. The lawsuit accuses Dugan and CACI of committing torture, war crimes, and sexual assault against Iraqi detainees. This is one of a series of lawsuits by former Iraqi prisoners against civilian defense contractors who worked at Abu Ghraib.

In an e-mailed statement, a spokesman for CACI called the lawsuits a, quote, "big lie propaganda campaign to keep political agendas in the public light." One former Iraqi prisoner named Mohammed Abdwaihed says he is trying to attract the international attention with this lawsuit.

NORRIS: (Through Translator) My main aim is not to sue somebody, it's to - I would like the lawyers, the press, to be our voice and to communicate our mistreatment and the - everything that we went though to the rest of the world especially the American people.

WATSON: Abdwaihed says, on one occasion, he was interrogated with a rope tied tightly around his genitals. Another time, he says interrogators force-fed him liters of water.

NORRIS: (Through translator) And they would force the water down my throat, and I'll throw it up, and then they repeat this over and over until the seven liters are finished, and towards the end, I started to vomit blood.

WATSON: Abdwaihed's lawsuit singles out the Virginia-based company L-3 Services. L-3 employed translators in Iraq who have also been accused of torturing prisoners. L-3 was contacted by NPR today but had no immediate comment.

Bill Gould is an attorney representing the Iraqi prisoners.

NORRIS: Well, you can't - under our legal system, you can't sue the military. What we care about are the people of the companies and the people who are in the prison. The people, for instance, who were actually hitting, who were beating, who were sexually tormenting these people.

WATSON: The former Iraqi prisoners say it would be difficult for them to identify their interrogators, in part because they were often hooded while being mistreated.

In the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, the U.S. military eventually tried and convicted 11 soldiers, but no civilian contractors were charged. Today's lawsuits seek a jury trial, compensation for the Iraqi prisoners, and punitive damages against the defendants.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Istanbul.

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