A US contractor whose employees tortured Iraqi detainees at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad has agreed to pay more than $5 million to 71 former inmates.
L-3 Services Inc., a subsidiary of Engility Holdings, agreed to pay $5.28 million to the 71 former detainees, who were held at Abu Ghraib between 2003 and 2007. The prisoners in question were subjected to sexual assault and humiliation, rape threats, electrical shocks, mock executions, brutal beatings, and were forced to drink water until they vomited blood.
According to a lawsuit filed by former detainees in a US federal court in 2008, L-3 Services "permitted scores of its employees to participate in torturing and abusing prisoners over an extended period of time throughout Iraq."
Additionally, the suit alleged that the company "willfully failed to report L-3 employees' repeated assaults and other criminal conduct by its employees to the United States or Iraqi authorities."
"Private military contractors played a serious but underreported role in the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib," Center for Constitutional Rights legal director Baher Azmy, who represented the plaintiffs, said. "We are pleased that this settlement provides some accountability for one of those contractors and offers some measure of justice for the victims."
The settlement marks the first time that a US military contractor has compensated torture victims.
A lawsuit filed by four former Abu Ghraib detainees against CACI, a US interrogation contractor whose employees tortured Iraqi prisoners at the Baghdad prison, was dismissed by a federal court in 2011. The court did not refute the plaintiff's claims of abuse but rather cited national security and foreign policy preemption as well as government contractor immunity in rejecting the suit. Plaintiffs in that lawsuit claimed they were subjected to electric shocks, brutal beatings, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, oxygen deprivation, solitary confinement, menacing with dogs, painful stress positions, prolonged hanging by the limbs, mock executions, sexual assault, sexual humiliation, exposure to scalding and freezing water, hooding, broken bones and blinding. One former prisoner claims he was forced to watch a female detainee being raped. Innocent women were often imprisoned in bids to persuade wanted male relatives to turn themselves in; rapes of male and female detainees were reported.
Military intelligence officials estimated that 70-90 percent of prisoners held in Iraq "had been arrested by mistake," according to the Red Cross. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of Abu Ghraib at the time the 2004 detainee abuse photo scandal broke, claims that Maj. Gen. Walter Wodjakowski, the second-highest ranking US Army officer in Iraq, ordered her to imprison innocent people. "I don't care if we're holding 15,000 innocent civilians," Wodjakowski allegedly spat, "we're winning this war."
Dozens of Abu Ghraib detainees died while in US custody, many of them as a result of homicide. Detainees were sometimes tortured to death.
A report prepared by US Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba corroborates most of these abuses, which were committed by US troops and contractors alike.
While Engility Holdings is being praised for paying more than $5 million to Iraqi victims of torture and other abuse, when divided among the 71 plaintiffs each one will receive only around $74,000. By contrast, a US judge ordered Iran to pay $4.3 million to an American who was kidnapped and tortured by Lebanese terrorists, not because Iranians had anything do to with the abduction but simply because they support the militant group that committed the crime.
This fits into a wider pattern of US authorities placing a much higher value on American life than on the lives of those harmed by US actions. For example, while the families of victims of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks received an average of about $1.8 million per death, the US typically pays out only about $2,500 to the families of innocent civilians killed in Afghanistan.