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U.S. stands in way of POWs’ compensation for Iraq torture

By David G. Savage

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – The latest chapter in the legal history of torture is being written by U.S. pilots who were beaten and abused by Iraqis during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

The Bush administration is fighting the former prisoners of war in court, trying to prevent them from collecting nearly $1 billion from Iraq that a federal judge awarded them as compensation for torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The rationale: Today’s Iraqis are good guys, and they need the money. The case abounds with ironies. It pits the U.S. government against its own war heroes and the Geneva Conventions. Many of the U.S. pilots were tortured in the same Iraqi prison, Abu Ghraib, where U.S. soldiers abused Iraqis 15 months ago.

The Iraqi victims, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said, deserve compensation from the United States. But the U.S. victims of Iraqi torturers are not entitled to payments from Iraq, the U.S. government says.

“It seems so strange to have our own country fighting us on this,” said retired Air Force Col. David Eberly, the senior officer among the former POWs.

The case, now being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, tests whether “state sponsors of terrorism” can be sued in U.S. courts for torture, murder or hostage-taking. The court is expected to decide in the next two months whether to hear the appeal.

Congress opened the door to such claims in 1996, when it lifted the shield of sovereign immunity – which prohibits lawsuits against foreign governments – for any nation that supports terrorism. At that time, Iraq was identified by the State Department as a nation sponsoring terrorist activity.

The 17 gulf war POWs looked to have a strong case when they sued in 2002. They had been tortured by a tyrannical regime, one that had $1.7 billion of its assets frozen by the U.S. government.

The picture changed after the United States invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam from power. On July 21, 2003, two weeks after the gulf war POWs won their court case in U.S. District Court, the Bush administration intervened to argue that their claims should be dismissed.

“No amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through at the hands of this very brutal regime and at the hands of Saddam Hussein,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said in November 2003.

Government lawyers have insisted, literally, on “no amount of money” going to the POWs. “These resources are required for the urgent national-security needs of rebuilding Iraq,” McClellan said.

The case tests a key provision of the Geneva Conventions. The United States and other signers pledged never to “absolve” a state of “any liability” for the torture of POWs.

“Our government is on the wrong side of this issue,” said Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. “A lot of Americans would scratch their heads and ask, ‘Why is our government taking the side of Iraq against our POWs?’ ”

The POWs’ journey through the court system began Jan. 17, 1991 – the first day of the Persian Gulf war.

A jet piloted by Marine Corps Lt. Col. Clifford Acree was downed by a surface-to-air missile. He suffered a neck injury ejecting from the plane and was taken prisoner by Iraqis. Blindfolded and handcuffed, he was beaten until he lost consciousness. His nose was broken, his skull was fractured, and he was threatened with having his fingers cut off. He lost 30 pounds during 47 days of captivity.

Eberly was shot down two days later and lost 45 pounds. He and several other U.S. service members were near starvation when they were freed. Other POWs had their eardrums ruptured and were urinated on during their captivity at Abu Ghraib.

All the while their families thought they were dead, because the Iraqis did not notify the U.S. government of their capture.

In April 2002, the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson sued on behalf of the 17 former POWs and 37 of their family members. The lawsuit sought monetary damages for the “acts of torture committed against them and for pain, suffering and severe mental distress of their families.” The case came before U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts. There was no trial; Saddam’s regime ignored the lawsuit, and the U.S. State Department took no part in the case.

On July 7, 2003, the judge handed down an opinion that described the abuse suffered by the POWs, and he awarded them $653 million in compensatory damages. He also assessed $306 million in punitive damages against Iraq, and lawyers for the POWs asked the judge to put a hold on some of Iraq’s frozen assets.

No sooner had the POWs celebrated their victory than they came up against a roadblock: Bush administration lawyers argued that the case should be thrown out on the grounds that Bush had voided any such claims against Iraq under U.S. occupation.

The administration lawyers based their argument on a clause in an emergency bill, passed shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. It authorized the president to suspend the sanctions against Iraq that had been imposed as punishment for the invasion of Kuwait more than a decade earlier.

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CCT- You mean you think we are right in this???????? :blink:


He's a true Kool-Aid drinker. Bush is never wrong in his world.

This will probably be rectified in some way b/c it is so wrong. But it is shameful that these guys ever had to hit this roadblock.

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He's apparently for the dead soldiers if he and several congressmen are for raising the death benefits.

But these POW'S should get this money. It's a lame reason to say that they should exuse this debt from Iraq.

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CCT- You mean you think we are right in this???????? :blink:


Too early to tell.

Like my grandaddy always told me, "Even a blind hog can find an acorn every once in a while." Keep up the good work.

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