Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Tell me again how they support the troops

From the LA Times:

POW's Claims Against New Iraq Government Rejected
By David G. Savage
Times Staff Writer

9:53 AM PDT, April 25, 2005

WASHINGTON — U.S. pilots and soldiers who were taken prisoner and tortured by the Iraqis during the Persian Gulf War of 1991 lost their legal battle to hold Iraq liable today, as the Supreme Court turned away their final appeal.

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 Gulf War POWs two years ago.

The court's refusal to hear the case spares the administration from having to go before the Supreme Court to argue against American POWS who were tortured.

The 17 ex-POWs had sued Iraq and the regime of Saddam Hussein under the terms of a 1996 antiterrorism 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 in just a few weeks.

But during that time, the POWs said they were beaten and had their bones broken by their 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 ex-POWs had won their claim in court, the United States had invaded Iraq and toppled the Saddam Hussein regime. And 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 American occupation, was no longer a "state sponsor of terror." Moreover, President Bush had canceled the sanctions against Iraq and moved to shield its $1.7 billion in frozen assets. This money was needed to rebuild the nation, Bush said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington agreed with the administration last year and ruled that "weighty foreign policy interests" called for dismissing the lawsuit brought by the Gulf War POWs.

The former prisoners' last hope had rested with the Supreme Court. In their appeal, they argued that U.S. law and the Geneva Convention forbid the torture of war prisoners and prohibit nations from absolving perpetrators of torture of their legal liability.

"Our country does not have a good record for holding nations accountable for how they have treated American captives," Col. Clifford Acree, the lead plaintiff, said recently.

He was shot down over Iraq on Jan. 18, 1991, the second day of the Gulf War. He was injured when he ejected from his jet. He was blindfold and beaten by the Iraqis until he lost consciousness.

"What message do we send for the future?" he asked in a recent news briefing, if the POWs' lawsuit is dismissed by the courts.

The ex-POWS 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 justices to restore the verdict won by the ex-POWs.

But last month, Bush administration lawyers urged the court to dismiss the case. They said "the Presidential Determination (by Bush that canceled the sanctions) reflects a most profound shift in the (government's) foreign policy toward Iraq — from viewing it as an enemy to a state subject to our protection."

In a one-line order today, the high court turned down the appeal in Acree vs. Iraq and the United States.

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

While the judge who heard the case had awarded the POWs damages that totaled nearly $1 billion, their lawyers had told government officials they would have settled the claim for a small fraction of that amount. But the lawyers said administration officials refused to discuss a settlement.

Today's dismissal ends the lawsuit with no money for the plaintiffs