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Nick Wakeman

Abu Ghraib lawsuit questions protections for government contractors

A group of Iraqi citizens who were imprisoned at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq are continuing to fight for compensation for alleged abuses they suffered.

A consistent target of their fight has been CACI International, who had contractors at the prison.

Currently, the group, collective known as Al Shimari et al, is in the midst of its third attempt to extract damages from CACI. They first filed suit in 2008.

But so far, the courts have ruled against the group. The current litigation is an appeal they have filed with the Fourth Circuit after the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed their lawsuit.

The district court ruled that CACI was protected from a private tort suit because it was operating under the direct supervision of the military in a warzone. While the case is hinging on a legal issue, there has been no factual finding that CACI employees were involved in any wrongdoing at Abu Ghraib. The company declined comment for this story.

The ruling against the Iraqis was not a surprise as multiple cases have been decided on those grounds. And the U.S. government often is not a party in these lawsuits that have supported the protection for contractors because of the vital national security role contractors play in providing combat-related support.

With this case going to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Professional Services Council and the Coalition of Government Procurement have filed a joint amicus brief urging the court to “stay the course.”

“The federal courts have been consistent and very clear—and properly so—in rejecting these private tort suits against federal contractors who are carrying out contractual duties that are under the control of the military,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council.

In its brief, PSC and the coalition described the group of similar court cases as a “expanding body of case law.”

I find that to be a telling comment as it exposes how deeply contractors are now embedded in military operations. A lot has been written about that and about the proper role of contractors and what is inherently government and what isn’t.

Some people might not like it, but the role of contractors is important and significant across defense and civilian government operations. These cases are showing us another side of that reality.

As a contractor serving the government, understanding your legal protections and exposures is something you shouldn’t take lightly.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Oct 30, 2015 at 10:58 AM


Reader Comments

Thu, Nov 5, 2015 John

Legit questions, to be sure. There are around a dozen companies, some very familiar, others not, who had a piece of what can be called the Abu Ghraib Market. Most don't advertise that fact, unlike CACI, which proudly associates with the work,possibly because of who the clients were/are. That is understandable, given ambient business values and morals in the industry. Some of the institutional investors might be very concerned, but they probably do not make these connections, as long as they believe the work is completely above board. Others, perhaps, just avert their eyes. But, do shareholders (like, say, a retired civil servant whose pension comes from a public administered trust fund) know, do the trade associations have positions on this? Someone needs to look into this.

Mon, Nov 2, 2015 Mel Ostrow

Thanks for the update. What do you think of the ethics of doing the kind of work, using the methods now documented and out in the open? Should the industry be proud of doing this kind of work, just because the client is federal and the work, such as it is, appears to be protected from lawsuit assault? Is this what we as an industry want to be known for? This is a problem that Stan and the industry titans need to zero in on, regardless of CACI's forever defense of its conduct and being known for the Abu Ghraib services provided. Jack L. is so very proud of this work. How many companies are proud of this kind of work?

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