- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

A federal judge has rejected a defense contractor’s claims that the company was immune from lawsuits by purported torture victims at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

In a ruling made public Thursday, U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee rejected claims made by Arlington-based CACI that it couldn’t be sued because its interrogators were performing their duties as the government required. The company also said the case involves U.S. policy issues too sensitive for litigation.

The ruling allows four Abu Ghraib detainees, who were later released without being charged, to go forward with their lawsuit against CACI. The four purport torture and other crimes at the hands of CACI civilian interrogators hired by the Army.

The detainees’ lawyer, Susan Burke, said Judge Lee’s ruling is “another step toward ensuring that this litigation will contribute to the true history of Abu Ghraib.”

CACI’s lawyer, William Koegel, said Judge Lee could still dismiss the case as more facts emerge.

“Judge Lee’s decision is far from the last chapter,” he said.

CACI and another contractor are defendants in a similar lawsuit filed in the District, where a federal appeals court heard arguments last month.

CACI had argued that courts are not equipped to evaluate the detainees’ claims because it requires delving into classified information and sorting through facts shrouded in “the fog of war.”

But Judge Lee said CACI has filed civil lawsuits purporting defamation of character against a radio host who held CACI responsible for Abu Ghraib atrocities.

“The court finds it ironic that CACI argues that this case is shrouded by the ‘fog of war,’ yet CACI saw only clear skies” when it pursued its own case, the judge wrote.

CACI has been aggressive in defending itself against accusations of wrongdoing at Abu Ghraib, where photos of detainee abuse that became public in 2004 shocked the national conscience.

While several military personnel have been convicted and sentenced for their roles in the abuse, no civilian contractors have been charged.

Judge Lee said CACI has provided no evidence that its interrogators’ actions were consistent with policies established by high-ranking Pentagon officials. If it can provide such proof, it might then qualify for immunity.

“CACI would have the court blindly accept its premise that the activities of Abu Ghraib were so heavily monitored that, but for the involvement and approval of high-level government officials, the atrocities could not have occurred,” Judge Lee wrote.

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