POW appeal rejected by court

The Supreme Court yesterday rejected an appeal by a group of retired and current U.S. soldiers seeking nearly $1 billion in reparations from Iraq for being held as prisoners of war by the country during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The justices upheld a U.S. appeals court ruling that dismissed a $959 million settlement won in a lower court by 17 servicemen — eight current and nine retired — who claim to have endured severe torture, including being “shocked with electrical devices,” while in Iraqi captivity.

In other action, the high court said it will review the types of “mitigating evidence” convicted murderers facing the death penalty are allowed to present to sentencing juries. The case stems from an Oregon Supreme Court ruling to allow convicted killer Randy Lee Guzek to present alibi testimony that he wasn’t present when the crime was committed.

The justices also said they will hear arguments in the case of a woman who sued the U.S. Postal Service because she slipped and fell on mail delivered to her porch instead of to her mailbox. Barbara Dolan lost the case in lower courts. It and the death-penalty matter will be resolved in the high court’s next term, which begins in October.

The justices’ refusal, meanwhile, to hear the case of the Gulf War POWs was met by disappointment from retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey S. Tice, who said he was subjected to extensive electrical shocks while held in Iraqi captivity for 46 days after his F-16 went down in January 1991.

“It’s a tough break,” Col. Tice said of the development in the case, which during recent years has found the POWs pitted against the Bush administration in a dispute over the meaning and reach of the 1996 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

In 2003, the POWs won the $959 million settlement against Iraq under the law, which allows Americans to sue for damages from “state sponsors of terrorism” — a classification the U.S. government gave Iraq in the early 1990s.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned the ruling last year, saying the servicemen and 37 of their immediate family members had not brought the suit in a fashion that applies to the law.

The group had sought the settlement paid from Iraqi assets frozen by the United States after the Gulf War. The Bush administration had resisted, arguing the assets were needed for the reconstruction of Iraq.

The high court’s refusal to review the case signals a victory for the administration and means no settlement for the POWs. But Col. Tice, 49, said that for him and the others, the case was “not really about the money.”

He already had “won the lottery” by surviving torture while in Iraqi captivity, he said. “I took a short walk through hell, and I came home.”

What’s bothersome, Col. Tice said, is that the Supreme Court missed “an opportunity to take the law that Congress passed to deter torture … and put it back on track with a powerful stroke of the pen.”

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