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3 Abu Ghraib prison detainees finally get their day in a U.S. court

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

More than 20 years after they were tortured at a U.S. military prison in Iraq, three survivors of Abu Ghraib get their day in court today. They are suing a U.S.-based military contractor, CACI, accusing it of enabling and participating in their abuse. That torture was made public in disturbing images released two decades ago this month. They include male prisoners stacked in naked pyramids and U.S. soldiers smiling as prisoners were being abused. Matthew Barakat is a reporter with the Associated Press who is covering the lawsuit, and he joins us now. Good morning.

MATTHEW BARAKAT: Good morning.

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FADEL: So who are the three men who filed these lawsuits?

BARAKAT: Well, they were all detainees at Abu Ghraib, at what they called the hard site. One of them was a farmer. One of them was a former Al-Jazeera reporter. And they were all at that prison from anywhere from two months to a year. And they say that they endured some of that sort of shocking treatment that we saw in the photos that you were just describing.

FADEL: So what exactly do they say happened to them at Abu Ghraib? And how do they say CACI was involved?

BARAKAT: What they - it's sort of a list of horribles. They're talking about sexual assaults, beatings, being dragged around on a rope naked, stress positions, being forced to wear women's underwear, threatened with dogs, all those sorts of things. And then the second part of your question.

FADEL: How do they say CACI was involved?

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BARAKAT: You know, they say that CACI was a contractor that supplied interrogators that questioned the detainees at this prison, and they don't allege that the CACI interrogators were directly inflicting this abuse. But they say that they set up the conditions, that some of those interrogators asked the military police to soften up detainees for interrogations. And so they say that CACI filled that role.

FADEL: Now, this was abuse by U.S. soldiers. So why are they suing a military contractor rather than the U.S. government?

BARAKAT: Well, there's questions about whether or not the U.S. government would have immunity from a lawsuit. And that may have been an assumption. And as this has been bouncing around for 16 years, CACI had claimed that it would also have what it called derivative immunity. And so in one of the times this was bouncing around through the case, the judge in this case was Leonie Brinkema, and she wrote a long sort of first of its kind ruling about immunity in this case. And what she said is that the U.S. government actually doesn't have immunity when you're talking about these kind of violations of international norms like torture. She said the government doesn't have immunity, therefore CACI doesn't have immunity. But, initially, one of the assumptions would be that the government enjoys immunity from these kind of lawsuits.

FADEL: Now, this torture came to light 20 years ago, and this case was filed in 2008. So why has it taken so long to get to court?

BARAKAT: A lot of appeals - CACI has filed, I think, more than 20 motions to have the case dismissed. In the early years, the judge that was hearing the case did have it dismissed, said that it couldn't be dealt with. It should be - if there was a suit, it should be filed in Iraq. He later ruled that it was what they call a political question and that, you know, courts can't decide that.

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FADEL: Matthew Barakat is a reporter with the Associated Press. Thank you so much for your time.

BARAKAT: Sure.

FADEL: We reached out to CACI for comment and have not received a response. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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