Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Court declines to revive POWs' suit against Iraq


Court declines to revive POWs' suit against Iraq

By Joan Biskupic, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday refused to revive a lawsuit brought against Iraq by 17 Americans who were tortured by Saddam Hussein's regime when they were POWs during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Without comment, the justices let stand a 2004 ruling by an appeals court that threw out the case and an award of $959 million that the former POWs had won against Iraq in a lower federal court.

The Bush administration had stepped into the dispute to argue for Iraq. The administration said that after U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam's regime two years ago, Iraq no longer could be sued as a terrorist state under federal law. It also said the money that had been awarded to the former POWs was needed to help rebuild Iraq.

"I'm in utter disbelief," former Marine colonel Clifford Acree said after Monday's action by the Supreme Court. Acree spent 48 days in captivity during the Gulf War and led the group that filed the lawsuit. "This decision essentially tells Iraq or any other nation that could be our adversary there will be no consequences for torture."

The lawsuit brought by the former POWs and 37 members of their families said the POWs had endured "severe beatings, electric shock, burns, whipping, starvation, subjection to severe cold and filth, genital inspections (to identify Jews), mock executions, and threatened castration and dismemberment."

They sued Iraq, the Iraqi Intelligence Service and Saddam in April 2002 under a 1996 federal law that allows claims for money damages against terrorist states that engage in torture. In July 2003, the group won the nearly $1 billion verdict in a federal trial court in Washington.

But the Bush administration, which began the war in Iraq on March 19, 2003, pushed for the verdict to be thrown out. Among other things, the administration cited an appropriations bill passed by Congress in April 2003 that allowed Bush to suspend sanctions against Iraq and remove it from the U.S. list of terrorist states.

The federal appeals court in Washington did not fully agree with the administration's arguments, but it dismissed the case and said there was no basis for imposing liability on Iraq. The POWs appealed to the Supreme Court. They said they still had a cause of action under federal law and international anti-torture rules.

Also Monday, the high court agreed to hear the following cases in the annual term that begins in October:

•A dispute from Washington state that tests whether the U.S. government may withhold a person's Social Security benefits to collect on student loan debt that has been outstanding at least 10 years. An appeals court said seizing the benefits was allowed. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of James Lockhart, 66, who has not been able to work regularly since 1981 and had been drawing Social Security disability benefits.

•An Oregon dispute over whether a murder defendant who has been found guilty has a right during the sentencing phase of his trial to present alibi evidence that casts doubt on his guilt. The state of Oregon is appealing a ruling that said Randy Lee Guzek may present evidence that he was not at the scene of the crime for which he was found guilty. He was convicted of murdering a couple during a robbery at their home in rural Oregon in 1987.