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Ex-Detainees Sue 2 U.S. Contractors

Employees of Titan and CACI are accused of torturing prisoners. Lawyers say the action is based on a military report on abuse.

June 10, 2004|T. Christian Miller | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Eight Iraqis filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday claiming that employees of two American contractors subjected them to abuse in U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, including electric shocks, rape, and torture.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, alleges that employees of San Diego-based Titan Corp. and Virginia-based CACI International, contracted for interpretation and interrogation services respectively, systematically tortured prisoners to extract more information and increase the firms' chances of winning future contracts.

"We have not heard everything yet," said Shereef Akeel, a Michigan lawyer who filed the lawsuit along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, a nonprofit group in New York that specializes in human rights cases. "The stories are coming out now as more Abu Ghraib prisoners are coming out."

Both companies denied any wrongdoing.

The plaintiffs' lawyers acknowledged at a news conference Wednesday that none of their clients had been able to identify the people who allegedly tortured them or say whether they worked for contractors or the U.S. government. Their clients were hooded during the abuse or those abusing them concealed their identities, the lawyers said.

The suit was based on a report by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba that identified several contractor employees in connection with the abuse seen in the photos taken at the Abu Ghraib prison, the lawyers said.

They said that none of their clients appeared in the photos, but that their status as detainees had been confirmed through personal interviews and prisoner identification records.

The Justice Department has announced that it is investigating an unidentified contractor in connection with the abuse, and six U.S. soldiers are facing courts-martial in the scandal. A seventh has pleaded guilty.

"When war becomes a for-profit enterprise, horror, human suffering and degradation is the dividend," said Barbara Olshansky, deputy legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Executives of CACI said they were cooperating with five government investigations in connection with the company's contract to supply interrogators to the government in Iraq. In addition, the company has announced its own internal investigation.

"CACI summarily rejects and denies the ill-informed, slanderous and malicious allegations of the lawsuit that attempts to malign the work that we do on behalf of the U.S. government around the world and in Iraq," the company said in a statement.

Steven A. Stefanowicz, a CACI employee identified in the Taguba report, was one of three people named as defendants in Wednesday's lawsuit. His lawyer, Henry E. Hockeimer, declined to comment on the lawsuit but reiterated that his client had done nothing wrong.

Titan executives called the lawsuit "frivolous." They said the U.S. government had not informed Titan of any wrongdoing by either the company or its employees. Titan has a contract to provide interpretation services to U.S. government and military officials in Iraq and elsewhere.

"We will vigorously defend against" the lawsuit, said Wil Williams, a company spokesman. "Titan has never provided interrogation or interrogation services to anyone."

Titan has fired one employee named in the Taguba report, Adel L. Nakhla, but declined to say why. Nakhla was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. His lawyer, Francis Hoang, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

John Israel, who worked for a Titan subcontractor called SOS Interpreting Ltd., was also named in the lawsuit. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday. SOS is not a defendant in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego, portrays CACI and Titan as having developed business strategies to aggressively pursue government contracts to boost their profits. The suit relies on a federal racketeering law and the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows foreign nationals to sue in U.S. courts for violations of international laws against torture.

The lawsuit, which seeks to represent all Iraqis who were victims of abuse by contractors in U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, seeks unspecified monetary damages.

CACI, with a market value of $1.1 billion, has bought 26 companies since the 1990s, many specializing in the defense industry.

Titan, whose shareholders approved a $1.66-billion buyout offer this week from defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., earns most of its revenue from government contracts.

One of the plaintiffs, whose name was given only as Ahmed, said unidentified workers at Abu Ghraib sprayed him and his father with cold water, kicked them with heavy military boots and stripped them naked. The interrogators tortured his father until he died, the lawsuit states.

A second plaintiff, identified only as Ismael, said that when he refused to answer questions, his interrogators showed him photographs that appeared to show U.S. soldiers sexually assaulting prisoners.

A third plaintiff, identified only as Neisef, said he was raped by a female worker at a prison at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. He said interrogators attached wires to his genitals to give him electric shocks.

Two plaintiffs, identified as Sami Abbas al Rawi, 56, and his son, Mwafaq Sami Abbas al Rawi, 28, said they were kicked, beaten and forced to stand on one leg for hours.

The lawyers said most of the plaintiffs did not want their full names used because of the stigma attached to the alleged acts.

They said their clients believed that their abusers were private employees because they wore civilian clothes. They said they hoped to identify the alleged assailants through physical descriptions and from company employment records that they will seek during the litigation.

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