Torture Claims Dismissed Under Military Contractor Immunity

By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 23, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed two torture cases this week against military contractors, finding that the plaintiffs' state law claims were preempted by federal law.

Since the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, the U.S. military has seized and detained Iraqi citizens who it suspected of being enemy combatants or having useful intelligence. Some of these detainees, like the plaintiffs in the Fourth Circuit cases, were imprisoned at Abu Ghraib prison. Although the prison was operated in the war zone by the U.S. Army, the U.S. government, in response to a severe shortage of military intelligence personnel, contracted with private corporations to provide civilian interrogators and interpreters.

CACI International and L-3 Services, the defendants in these cases, were among the contractors.

Contractors were required to comply with Department of Defense interrogation policies and procedures when interacting with detained persons, but there were numerous instances of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" at Abu Ghraib, including "illegal abuse of detainees," reports The New Yorker.

Most of the claims in the two Abu Ghraib lawsuits before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals were similar. Detainees in both cases alleged that they were interrogated in dangerous and unauthorized stress positions, subjected to sexual assault and sensory deprivation, and beaten repeatedly. Both groups claimed food, water and sleep deprivation. Both charged that the contractors forced them to witness another prisoner's rape. Both groups alleged that the abuse and cover-up were carried out by named contractors in conspiracy with U.S. military personnel.

The court, relying on the Supreme Court's ruling in Boyle v. United Technologies Corp, found that CACI International and L-3 Services were insulated from liability in the Abu Ghraib torture cases under the military contractor immunity defense. The ruling was not unexpected; in 2009, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals relied on Boyle to find military contractor immunity in Saleh v. Titan Corp, an Abu Ghraib torture claim with nearly identical facts to both the CACI International and L-3 Services cases.

While the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that conduct carried out during war is not properly the subject of judicial evaluation, it noted that it was dismissing the cases "on structural ground alone, and not on any judgment about the conduct itself."

Do you think that military contractors should be immune from liability when there is clear evidence of torture, or should there be a means by which plaintiffs could pierce the veil of the military contractor defense?

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard