Ex-Abu Ghraib inmates get 5 million settlement over abuse

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A defense contractor whose subsidiary was accused of conspiring to torture Abu Ghraib prisoners has settled with 71 former inmates for $5 million.

U.S. firm Engility Holdings paid to inmates held at Abu Ghraib, Baghdad, and other U.S.-run prisons, between 2003 and 2007 on behalf of L-3 Services, according to a legal filing found by the Associated Press.

L-3 provided translators to the U.S. military in post-war Iraq. In 2006, L-3 Services had more than 6,000 translators in Iraq under a $450 million-a-year contract, an L-3 executive told an investors conference at the time.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for the ex-detainees, Baher Azmy, told AP that each of the 71 Iraqis received a portion of the settlement. Azmy declined to say how the money was distributed among them. He said there was an agreement to keep details of the settlement confidential.

"Private military contractors played a serious but often under-reported role in the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib," said Azmy, the legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights. "We are pleased that this settlement provides some accountability for one of those contractors and offers some measure of justice for the victims."

Images of abuse at Abu Ghraib in 2004 sparked international outage. The ex-detainees filed the lawsuit in federal court in Greenbelt, Md., in 2008.

L-3 Services "permitted scores of its employees to participate in torturing and abusing prisoners over an extended period of time throughout Iraq," the lawsuit stated. The company "willfully failed to report L-3 employees' repeated assaults and other criminal conduct by its employees to the United States or Iraq authorities."

One inmate alleged he was subjected to mock executions by having a gun aimed at his head and the trigger pulled. Another inmate said he was slammed into a wall until he became unconscious. A third was allegedly stripped naked and threatened with rape while his hands and legs were chained and a hood was placed on his head. Another said he was forced to consume so much water that he began to vomit blood. Several of the inmates said they were raped and many of the inmates said they were beaten and kept naked for extended periods of time.

In its defense four years ago against the lawsuit, L-3 Services said lawyers for the Iraqis alleged no facts to support the conspiracy accusation. Sixty-eight of the Iraqis "do not even attempt to allege the identity of their alleged abuser" and two others provide only "vague assertions," the company said then.

A military investigation in 2004 identified 44 alleged incidents of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib. No employee from L-3 Services was charged with a crime in investigations by the U.S. Justice Department. Nor did the U.S. military stop the company from working for the government.

Fifty-two of the 71 Iraqis alleged that they were imprisoned at Abu Ghraib and at other detention facilities. The other 19 Iraqis allege they were detained at detention facilities other than Abu Ghraib.

Previous lawsuits by Iraqi victims of the abuses at Abu Ghraib failed. The New York Times noted a lawsuit by more than 250 prisoners against contractor CACI International and Titan, later known as L-3 Services and spun off into Engility, "wound its way all the way to the Supreme Court, which declined to review a holding by a lower court in the District of Columbia that the companies had immunity as government contractors," the newspaper stated.

"The new case, though, was filed in Federal District Court in Maryland and allowed to proceed. That led Engility to settle, although CACI has not done so," it added.
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