Abu Ghraib, the US Occupation, and Press Freedom in Iraq: An Annotated Bibliography

by    /  April 8, 2015  / 1 Comment

The United States may have a proud history of press freedom, but when it comes to the occupation of foreign nations, American forces are no different than the worst oppressors.

The Iraqis abused at Abu Ghraib prison included journalists and media workers. Since 2004, some of these victims have been seeking accountability for the corporations that profited off of their torture in US courts. Since 2003, the year the occupation began, 168 journalists have been murdered as a direct result of their work in Iraq. These numbers do not reflect the detention and torture of journalists by US armed forces, and the persecution of media networks like Al Jazeera.

Torture at Abu Ghraib
Seymour M. Hersh
The New Yorker
May 10, 2004

On January 14, 2004, the Army launched a criminal investigation after receiving images of detainee abuse occurring at Abu Ghraib, a notorious prison twenty miles west of Baghdad. Three months later, The New Yorker and CBS News published the images of torture and suffering. Along with the images, The New Yorker obtained a fifty-three-page report, not meant for public release, detailing “numerous instances of ‘sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses’” occurring between October and December of 2003.

CACI and Titan Sued Over Iraq Operations
Renae Merle
The Washington Post
June 10, 2004

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sued CACI International and Titan (now L-3 Services) on behalf of several Iraqi prisoners, on the grounds that the government contractor abused Iraqi detainees and failed to supervise their own employees. Saleh v. Titan named Titan and CACI employees and accused them of setting physically abusive conditions for the inmates. Titan and CACI both denied the allegations. Saleh v. Titan went through several rounds of appeals. It was denied class action certification in 2008. In 2009, the court found in favor of the defendants. CCR filed a Supreme Court petition to review the case. In a 2011 amicus brief, the Obama administration advised the Supreme Court not to hear the lawsuit. The Supreme Court declined, and the case ended that year.

Ringleader in Iraqi Prisoner Abuse is Sentenced to 10 Years
Kate Zernicke
The New York Times
January 16, 2005

Army Specialist Charles A. Graner, who US officials portrayed as the ringleader of a “few bad” low-ranking “apples,” was sentenced to 10 years in military prison. He told the jury that he had repeatedly complained about orders to treat detainees harshly but had been told to follow orders. Army Specialist Lynndie England was sentenced to three years, and Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commanding officer of all detention facilities in Iraq, was reprimanded and demoted to colonel. High-ranking personnel accused of authorizing the torture were not prosecuted.

Outsourcing War
P. W. Singer
Foreign Affairs
March/April 2005

According to U.S. Army reports cited in this article on the private military industry, all of the translators and up to half of the interrogators working at Abu Ghraib prison were private contractors working for the private military firms Titan (renamed L-3 Services) and CACI. Contractors were involved in 36 percent of the proven abuses, with six found to be culpable, although none of the individuals were indicted, prosecuted, or punished. The U.S. Army only tried enlisted soldiers who were involved, like Charles Graner. The only inquiry or investigation into CACI’s corporate level was conducted by CACI itself.

Why Did You Want to Bomb Me, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair?
Wadah Khanfar
The Guardian
December 1, 2005

Wadah Khanfar, Director General of Al Jazeera from 2003-2011, describes the harassments his publication faced since the beginning of the US occupation in Iraq. The US accused Al Jazeera of inciting violence, and the offices in Kabul and Baghdad were bombed. Although the US claimed it was a mistake, a leaked transcript of an April 2004 meeting between George Bush and Tony Blair indicates that the former US president may have thought of bombing the headquarters in Doha.

Al Jazeera Goes to Jail
Christian Parenti
The Nation
March 11, 2004

The Nation wrote a profile on the Al Jazeera media worker Salah Hassan, who was arrested with his colleague Suheib Badr Darwish in 2004 and held at Abu Ghraib prison. At Abu Ghraib, Hassan was subjected to tortures and mockingly addressed only as “Al Jazeera” or “boy” while he was detained. Darwish was also badly beaten by US troops. The two cases fit a pattern of US hostility towards Al Jazeera provoked by the network’s critical reporting on the US occupation.

A CNN Executive Says G.I.s in Iraq Target Journalists
Roderick Boyd
New York Sun
February 8, 2005

The head of CNN’s news division, Eason Jordan, told a panel at a World Economic Forum gathering in Switzerland that the American military targeted journalists during operations in Iraq. He said he knew of approximately 12 journalists who were targeted and killed by American troops, and spoke in detail of an Al Jazeera reporter detained at Abu Ghraib, who was mockingly called “Al Jazeera boy,” and made to eat his shoes. Jordan had previously criticized the military’s conduct toward journalists. CNN later released a statement that Jordan’s remarks were taken out of context.

Iraq: Another U.S. Military Assault on Media
Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily
Inter Press Service
February 23, 2007

U.S. soldiers ransacked the offices of the Iraq Syndicate of Journalists (ISJ), arresting armed guards and seizing computers and electricity generators. Many Iraqis believe that the U.S. troops attacked the media to send a message against criticizing the occupation. “They killed our colleagues, closed so many newspapers, arrested hundreds of us and now they are shooting at our hearts by raiding our headquarters,” said Youssaif al-Tamimi of the ISJ. “This is the freedom of speech we received.”

Hundreds of Journalists Forced Into Exile in Five Years Since Start of US-led Invasion
Reporters Without Borders
March 20, 2008

Sunni and Shiite militias, Al-Qaeda, the police, and US-led coalition forces were all responsible for targeting Iraqi journalists and forcing many of them to flee the country. Journalist Hussein al-Maadidi was forced into self-imposed exile after reporting in November 2005 that US marines deliberately shot women and children in reprisal for the killing of a marine in Haditha. The police searched his home 23 times, and he was forced to work under another name to avoid reprisal. Mr. al-Maadidi left Iraq in 2007.

CACI Calls Abu Ghraib Lawsuit Baseless
David Hubler
Washington Technology
July 2, 2008

Saleh v. Titan was denied class action certification in 2008, thereby restricting representation to only those who were in the lawsuit. In May and June of that year, CCR filed five other cases against the government contractors on behalf of Iraqi plaintiffs. According to Katherine Gallagher, Senior Staff Attorney at the CCR, those cases were eventually condensed into two cases: Al-Quraishi v. Nakhla, brought against L-3 services in Maryland, and eventually settled out of court, and Al-Shimari v. CACI. When the cases merged, Al Jazeera media worker Salah Hassan joined the three other Iraqi plaintiffs in Al-Shimari v. CACI.

CACI Must Face Suit Alleging Torture at Abu Ghraib
Cary O’Reilly
Bloomberg
March 19, 2009

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee denied a motion by CACI to dismiss the detainees’ claims of torture, war crimes, and conspiracy. “The court holds that plaintiffs’ claims are justiciable because civil tort claims against private actors for damages do not interfere with the separation of powers” in the U.S. Constitution, said the judge’s order.

Interrogation Memos Detail Harsh Tactics by the CIA
Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane
The New York Times
April 16, 2009

The release of memos from the Justice Department authorizing the use of harsh interrogation techniques demonstrate that the policies used against prisoners at Abu Ghraib were authorized by U.S. officials. Officials in the Justice and Defense department authorized the use of dogs, nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay and in the CIA’s secret prisons. There were adopted in Afghanistan and Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave the approval at Guantanamo, which was forwarded to Iraq. Military judges blocked Graner and England from summoning senior U.S. officials to the stand during their trails, and the government would not acknowledge any policy or procedure that led to what was documented in the photographs.

Court Dismisses Iraqi Contractor Torture Case
James Vicini
Reuters
September 11, 2009

The federal appeals court dismissed the CCR’s lawsuit against CACI, finding that both Titan/L-3 and CACI had government contractor immunity. The decision was based on a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling and national security and foreign policy precedent. The attorneys representing the Iraqis argued that the tortures the contractors performed fell outside the work they contractors had agreed to perform. The dissenting judge said, “no act of Congress and no judicial precedent bars the plaintiffs from suing the private contractors – who were neither soldiers nor civilian government employees.”

Abu Ghraib Contractor Suit Draws U.S. Supreme Court Interest
Greg Stohr
Bloomberg
October 4, 2010

The Supreme Court justices signaled that they might consider whether the military contractors could be sued for alleged abuses against the inmates at Abu Ghraib prison. The inmates seeking to sue CACI and Titan (L-3) asked the court to decide whether companies and other private parties could be sued under federal law authorizing some suits against foreign governments for human rights abuse. They also wanted the justices to consider whether government contractors can be sued for claims arising in a war zone.

Appeals Court Revives Iraqis’ Abu Ghraib Suits
Larry O’Dell
Associated Press
May 11, 2012

A federal appeals court ruled that it is too early to consider dismissing the lawsuits against CACI and Titan (L-3) Services. The court did not rule on the merits of the detainees’ claims in its 11-3 decision, but said that more facts must be developed in trial courts before it could consider CACI’s and Titan’s (L-3) request to toss out the lawsuits. “This is significant because it permits these cases to proceed in the lower court and permits our clients to tell their story, and hopefully obtain justice,” said Baher Azmy, an attorney with the CCR.

$5 Million Paid to Iraqis Over Abu Ghraib
Peter Yost
Associated Press
January 8, 2013

Titan (L-3) services paid a settlement of $5.28 million to the 71 former inmates held at Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run detention facilities between 2003 and 2007. This was the first successful effort by lawyers and former Abu Ghraib prisoners to collect money from a U.S. defense contractor in lawsuits alleging torture.

Iraq: The Deadliest War For Journalists
Dahar Jamail
Al Jazeera
April 11, 2013

“More journalists were killed during the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq than any other war in history.” By 2010, Reporters without Borders recorded the deaths of 230 media professionals in Iraq, 87 percent of whom were Iraqis. Between 2003 and 2010 more than 30 Iraqi journalists were detained and held in prisons by Americans. The report found that the treatment of journalists during US occupation of Iraq will have long term consequences on press freedom in Iraq.

Seeking Corporate Accountability for Crimes at Abu Ghraib
Laura Raymond
Center for Constitutional Rights in Truthout
April 2013

The lawsuit against CACI took on special importance in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, which ruled that corporations are immune to being held liable for human rights abuses worldwide. Al Shirami v. CACI might prove to demonstrate that US corporations can be held accountable for abuses committed overseas.

Abu Ghraib Case Against CACI Dismissed
Marjorie Censer
The Washington Post
June 26, 2013

A federal judge dismissed Al Shirami v. CACI, alleging that the employees of the military contractor directed the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib. U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee decided that as the allegations occurred in Iraq, the District Court in Alexandria did not have jurisdiction over the case. CACI lawyers had also argued that the corporation’s contractor status makes it immune under Iraqi law. The dismissal revealed a blind spot in US law, an exception where “the government and its contractors are virtually without a check or a balance in our system,” said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor. The CCR said its plaintiffs would appeal the decision.

Abu Ghraib Torture Victims Ordered to Pay U.S. Contractor’s Legal Fees
Christina Wilkie
The Huffington Post
September 6, 2013

A little over a month after Al Shimari v. CACI was dismissed, CACI requested that the former prisoners be ordered to pay $15,580 to cover the company’s legal fees. The lawyers for the Iraqis argued against request, citing, among other reasons, that the Iraqis had “very limited financial means, even by non-U.S. standards, and dramatically so when compared” to the corporation. The federal judge nevertheless ordered the four Iraqis to pay the legal fees to CACI.

CACI Commercial

A CACI promotional video describing the corporation’s “foundation of character.”

Abu Ghraib Suit Against Contractor CACI is Reinstated
Catherine Ho
The Washington Post
June 30, 2014

The U.S. Court of Appeals found that U.S. corporations are not entitled to impunity for torture. The district court had dismissed the case against CACI on a formalistic reading of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum. The court recognized that when there are connections to a US corporation, then the U.S. courts must provide a remedy to foreign nationals for international law violations. CACI had argued that the interrogation of detainees is a key component of national defense, and that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved many of the interrogation techniques. Al Shimari v. CACI went back to the District Court in Alexandria. Arguments began on February 6, 2015.

Abuse at Abu Ghraib: The Iraqi View
Witness/BBC World Service
July 1, 2014

The BBC interviewed Salah Hassan and another former detainee, Ali Shallal Abbas, on their arrests and abuses at Abu Ghraib.

US Corporations Winning Fight Over Human Rights Lawsuits
Lawrence Hurley
Reuters
December 12, 2014

In the year and a half since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Koibel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., suing US companies for roles in human rights abuses on foreign soil is nearly impossible. In the seven cases brought against US companies, since the Supreme Court ruling, only one was ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The decision has discouraged human rights lawyers from filing human rights lawsuits against corporations; as of this article, only one new lawsuit had ben filed since the Supreme Court decision.

Imprisoned Al Jazeera Journalist Details Abu Ghraib Torture & Why He’s Suing U.S. Contractor CACI
Democracy Now!
May 5, 2014

In this 2014 interview with Democracy Now, Al Jazeera media worker Salah Hussan describes his imprisonment at Abu Ghraib. Hassan was arrested in November, 2003 while reporting on an explosion that happened in the district of Diyala, north of Baghdad. He was moved from one military station to another, before landing in Abu Ghraib. There, he was subjected to torture, both physical and psychological. He describes his ordeal: “Throughout my detainment in the solitary cells, there was an interrogation every two or three days. During those interrogations, we were subjected to many…torture methods. One of those methods was that you are kept naked, handcuffed, the hood on your head, then they would bring a big dog. You hear the panting and barking of the big dog close to your face.”

Salah Hassan now lives in Qatar, where he still works for Al Jazeera.

10 Years After Abu Ghraib, Ex-Prisoners Seek Justice in Torture Lawsuit Against U.S. Contractor CACI
Democracy Now!
May 5, 2014

Democracy Now conducted an interview with Baher Azmy, the legal director of the CCR and the lead council for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against CACI. Azmy provides an overview of the case, the significance of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, and the legacy of Abu Ghraib. Salah Hassan’s treatment, Azmy said, was representative of what the plaintiffs endured in Abu Ghraib. He also said that the Iraqi prisoners are still appealing the 2013 federal court decision that the plaintiffs are responsible for paying CACI’s legal fees.

Federal Judge Considers Abu Ghraib Lawsuit
Mat Zapotosky
The Washington Post
February 6, 2015

After the appeals court sent the case back to the U.S. district court, attorneys resumed oral arguments over the “political question doctrine,” banning a court from deciding political matters. CACI insisted that there was no evidence connecting its employees to torture, and that the lawsuit forced Lee to consider military judgments, prohibited by law. The plaintiffs’ lawyers argued that CACI’s interrogators had “gone rogue” due to a “profound command vacuum” at Abu Ghraib. Judge Gerald Bruce Lee said he needed more time to decide whether CACI is exempt from the lawsuit.

About the Author

Caitlyn Christensen is Associate Editor for Sampsonia Way. She studied Writing and History at the University of Pittsburgh. Caitlyn began working with Sampsonia Way in 2011 as an editorial intern, and joined the magazine’s staff in 2014.

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