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Fourth Circuit: Courts Can Hear Abu Ghraib Torture Cases

By Robyn Hagan Cain on May 14, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is allowing the Abu Ghraib torture lawsuits against military contractors to proceed ... for now.

In an 11-3 decision after en banc rehearing, the Fourth Circuit reinstated two torture claims in Virginia and Maryland federal courts. The court did not rule on the merits of either claim; it only agreed to let judges in the cases review more evidence before addressing the contractors’ immunity claims.

Most of the claims in the two Abu Ghraib lawsuits were similar. Detainees in both cases alleged that they were interrogated in dangerous and unauthorized stress positions, subjected to sexual assault and sensory deprivation, and beaten repeatedly. Both groups claimed food, water and sleep deprivation. Both charged that the contractors forced them to witness another prisoner's rape. Both groups alleged that the abuse and cover-up were carried out by named contractors in conspiracy with U.S. military personnel.

Last year, a Fourth Circuit panel dismissed the lawsuits, ruling 2-1 that the state law claims against the contractors are pre-empted by federal authority to manage a war, reports The Washington Post. The court, relying on the Supreme Court's ruling in Boyle v. United Technologies Corp, found that CACI International and L-3 Services were insulated from liability in the Abu Ghraib torture cases under the military contractor immunity defense.

The detainees, however, won a second chance to bring their claims following en banc rehearing. Judge Robert B. King, writing for the majority, reasoned that "fundamentally, a court is entitled to have before it a proper record, sufficiently developed through discovery proceedings, to accurately assess any claim, including one of immunity."

The dissenting judges disagreed, arguing that the majority's view "inflicts significant damage on the separation of powers, allowing civil tort suits to invade theatres of armed conflict heretofore the province of those branches of government constitutionally charged with safeguarding the nation's most vital interests," and opining that "only the Supreme Court can now fix our wayward course."

What do you think? Will the Supreme Court be the next stop for the Abu Ghraib torture lawsuit?

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