June 17, 2008

IMPEACHMENT TOOLKIT: US POWs claim ANOTHER reason to impeach

American POWs lose claim vs. Iraq

Supreme Court denies $1 billion penalty over Gulf War torture

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

(04-26) 04:00 PDT Washington -- American pilots and soldiers who were taken prisoner and tortured by the Iraqis during the Persian Gulf War of 1991 have lost their legal bid to hold Iraq liable, as the Supreme Court turned away their final appeal Monday.

The justices heeded the advice of the Bush administration and let stand an appeals court ruling that threw out a nearly $1 billion verdict won by the prisoners of war two years ago.

The high court's refusal to hear the case spares the administration from having to go before the justices to argue against American POWs who were tortured. The 17 former POWs had sued Iraq and the government of Saddam Hussein under the terms of a 1996 anti-terrorism law that opened the courthouse door to claims from Americans who had been injured or tortured at the hands of "state sponsors of terror."

Their story was little known, because the Persian Gulf War was witnessed by most Americans as a TV spectacular in which U.S. forces pounded and destroyed Iraq's army within weeks. But during that time, the POWs said, they were beaten and had their bones broken by Iraqi captors. Several of the men nearly starved in the weeks they were held in cold, filthy cells, including at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

By the time the onetime POWs won their claim in federal court in 2003, the United States had invaded Iraq and toppled Hussein's government. To the surprise of the former U.S. prisoners, the Bush administration went to court seeking to nullify the award they had won.

The government's lawyers argued that Iraq, now under U.S. occupation, was no longer a state sponsor of terror. Moreover, President Bush had canceled sanctions against Iraq and moved to shield its $1.7 billion in frozen assets. The money was needed to rebuild the nation, Bush said.

Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington agreed with the administration and ruled that "weighty foreign policy interests" called for dismissing the POWs' lawsuit.

The former prisoners had won the support of a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Sens. George Allen, R-Va., Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Patty Murray, D-Wash. They filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to restore the verdict won by the former POWs.

But last month, Bush administration lawyers urged the justices to dismiss the case. "The presidential determination reflects a most profound shift in the foreign policy toward Iraq -- from viewing it as an enemy to a state subject to our protection," they wrote.

In its one-line order Monday, the high court turned down the appeal.

"The court's decision is unfortunate," said Paul Kamenar, counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, which had filed the brief for the lawmakers on behalf of the former POWs. "(It) sends the wrong message to those who would torture or kill Americans."

While the judge who originally heard the case had awarded the POWs damages that totaled nearly $1 billion, their attorneys had told government officials that they would have settled the claim for a fraction of that amount.

Monday's dismissal ends the lawsuit with no money for the plaintiffs.

The case is Acree vs. Iraq, 04-820.

See also:

Iraq: Whose Ox Is Gored?

Huffington Post

Posted April 26, 2008 | 12:40 PM (EST)

The pictures had been taken by Iraqi TV and transmitted worldwide by the Arab news channel Al Jazeera. They showed Americans lying dead and wounded in pools of blood, and U.S. captives being questioned by Iraqis, including one American POW who was lying badly wounded being seized by the hair and forced to sit up by his interrogator.

CBS broadcast some of the video on Face the Nation, NBC showed a dead U.S. soldier and an interview with one of the POWs, and other networks including ABC, CNN and Fox News broadcast still frames taken from the video. So did Matt Drudge on his website.

The Bush administration was outraged by release of the pictures. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared that Iraq and Al Jazeera broke international law by making them available. "The Geneva Convention makes it illegal for prisoners of war to be shown and pictured and humiliated," he said, "it's something the United States does not do...we treat our prisoners well...and the United States, of course, avoids showing photographs of prisoners of war."

That last turned out not to be true (not to mention the line about treating our prisoners well). Pictures of Iraqi POWs had already been shown on American television.

Rumsfeld's spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke, was as angry as her boss. She called Iraq's release of the pictures of U.S. POWs "a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention." "Disgusting," added Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, then Deputy Commander of CENTCOM. "I regard the showing of those pictures as unacceptable."

And President Bush warned that anyone who abused captured Americans would be treated as a war criminal. "I do know that we expect them to be treated humanely," Bush said, "just like we'll treat any prisoners of theirs that we capture humanely."

The authors of those comments seem to have ignored a memo by then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. On January 25, 2002, more than a year before the Iraq invasion, Gonzales had advised Bush that "the war on terrorism is a new kind of war" that "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitation on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders some of its provisions quaint."

So even as they were criticized Saddam's violations of the Geneva Conventions, Bush's lawyer ("mi abogado," as Bush cutely referred to him) had made the judgment that those rules were "quaint" and "obsolete," a judgment Bush confirmed at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram and in other torture chambers around the world.

In view of the long and frightening list of horrors that the United States has committed on hundreds of prisoners we've taken in Iraq and elsewhere, before and since then, the administration's comments on American POWs are beyond ironic, almost beyond hypocrisy. It really does depend on whose ox is gored, doesn't it?

We've come a long way since March 2003. A long way down.

Whenever I hear some new disclosure of torture or other abuse committed in the name of my country, I think back to something I remember near the start of the war in Iraq. On March 23, 2003, just days after the American invasion, the first pictures of U.S. soldiers killed, wounded and taken captive were broadcast on television.

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