- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

Seventeen former POWs of the first Gulf war who won a $1 billion reparations lawsuit against Iraq are suing the Bush administration to get their settlement paid from frozen Iraqi assets.

But the Bush administration wants the judgment vacated and claims that Iraq’s frozen assets — totaling about $1.7 billion — are needed to help fund the war-torn nation’s rebuilding process.

A federal judge for the District of Columbia on July 7 awarded the POWs and their families between $16 million and $35 million each as part of a ruling that called the 1991 actions of their Iraqi captors “savagery.” Tomorrow, lawyers for the POWs will fight in U.S. District Court in the District to get the $1 billion settlement paid out of the assets.

“These brave Americans have done everything their country asked of them,” said Steve Fennell, the lawyer representing the POWs and their families. “It is ironic that now that they and their loved ones have at last been awarded compensation for the grievous physical injuries and psychological damages they incurred at the hands of this terrorist regime, it is the executive branch of their own government that is blocking their ability to collect what they are rightfully owed.”

An explicit 118-page fact-finding document attached to U.S. District Court Judge Richard W. Roberts’ ruling to award the 17 POWs $1 billion details some of the punishment suffered by the POWs during their captivity in 1991.

In addition to being “systematically starved, denied sleep and exposed to freezing cold,” the POWs “were shocked with electrical devices and confined in dark, filthy conditions exposing them to contagion and infection,” the document states. “The POWs suffered serious physical injuries, including broken bones, perforated eardrums, nerve damage, infections, nausea, severe weight loss, massive bruises and other injuries.”

One of the POWs, Col. Clifford Acree, whose aircraft was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in Kuwait on the first day of the Gulf war, had his head beaten by Iraqi captors “with such force they broke his nose and fractured his skull,” the document states. Held inside a freezing, dirty cell at the Iraqi Intelligence Service regional headquarters, Col. Acree lost about 30 pounds during his captivity.

Mr. Fennell said that while in captivity his clients were at the mercy of “professional torturers,” and one of the goals of the POWs in winning compensation for their pain was to give countries worldwide an incentive to “upgrade the treatment” of war prisoners.

On July 18, Mr. Fennell obtained a 10-day temporary restraining order preventing the Treasury Department from allocating any of Iraq’s frozen assets for the postwar reconstruction. The assets are held in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where President Bush sent them in May with an executive order that said they will be used to help fund the reconstruction.

In response to the granting of the restraining order, last week the Justice Department filed a motion calling on Judge Roberts to vacate his July 7 judgment to award the POWs $1 billion.

The Justice Department argues that the U.S. District Court had no authority to grant the settlement to the 17 POWs because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power in Iraq.

The POWs’ suffering at the hands of the former Iraqi government officials cannot be excused or forgotten, the Justice Department said in court papers. “Nevertheless … our government [has] decided that, now [that] the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein has been removed from power, U.S. sanctions against Iraq based on its support for terrorism must be removed.”

With the sanctions being removed, the Justice Department argued, Iraq’s immunity from being sued in U.S. courts for torturing POWs during the Gulf war also has been removed, “thereby restoring to a liberated Iraq a sovereign immunity afforded by United States law to virtually every other foreign country.”

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