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Iraqis Sue SCV Translator
Lawsuit alleges Canyon Country resident conspired to torture Abu Ghraib prisoners.
By Leon Worden
Signal City Editor
Thursday, June 10, 2004
ormer Iraqi detainees who were stripped and beaten at Abu Ghraib prison have filed a lawsuit alleging that a Santa Clarita man conspired with others to torture them.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court in San Diego, accuses John B. Israel, 48, of Canyon Country, as well as Steven Stephanowicz of Philadelphia and Adel Nakhla of Maryland, of inflicting cruel and unusual punishment upon detainees last fall at the prison outside Baghdad.
Co-defendants are the companies that provided the three civilians to the Army's 205th Military Intelligence Brigade Virginia-based CACI International Inc. and San Diego-based Titan Corp., whose spokesman termed the lawsuit frivolous.
Filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and four other law firms, the 52-page lawsuit claims that Israel, Stephanowicz and Nakhla "conspired with certain United States officials to engage in a series of wrongful and illegal acts, including but not limited to summary execution, torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, assault and battery, false imprisonment and intentional interference with religious practices."
It doesn't identify the "certain United States officials."
The lawsuit accuses Titan and CACI of violating federal racketeering laws on grounds that the two publicly traded companies profited from their employees' wrongful acts.
It further alleges that the so-called "torture conspirators" violated two applicable Geneva conventions and several amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of seven named and two unnamed Iraqi citizens who were held at Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq. It seeks class-action status on behalf of as many as 1,000 additional ex-detainees.
The lawsuit identifies Israel as an associate of CACI, but Israel's employer is SOS Interpreting Ltd., a subcontractor to Titan.
Israel was accused in an Army report of sharing overall responsibility for the abuse of prisoners and of contradicting witness statements about interrogations. Stephanowicz, a CACI interrogator, was accused of instructing prison guards to soften up detainees for questioning, while Nakhla, a Titan translator, was listed as a suspect in abusive incidents. Titan subsequently fired Nakhla.
Israel, Stephanowicz and Nakhla have not been charged with crimes. An Army investigation of intelligence practices at Abu Ghraib is under way.
Israel's attorney, Christopher Darden, did not return phone messages Wednesday and has not replied to any of The Signal's inquiries. Stephanowicz's attorney and CACI officials could not be reached, and Nakhla's whereabouts are unknown.
Titan spokesman Ralph "Wil" Williams said his company is girding for battle.
"In regard to Titan, we believe the lawsuit to be frivolous and we will defend ourselves against it vigorously," Williams said.
He said no government agency has accused Titan of wrongdoing, "nor is there any charge against our single former employee," meaning Nakhla.
"Titan has never provided interrogators or interrogation support to anyone," Williams said. "We provide only linguists, whose job is translating or transcribing from one language to another."
Williams said the company has about 12,000 employees. According to published news reports, about 8,800 have government security clearances and there are about 4,200 Titan employees in Iraq, including indigenous Iraqi workers.
Susan Burke, an attorney for the prisoners, said each plaintiff individually retained one of the law firms.
Citing what purports to be a joint advertisement for linguists, the lawsuit claims Titan and CACI acted together as "a joint enterprise known as 'Team Titan.'"
Williams characterized the two companies as competitors and said Titan has no contractual relationship with CACI in Iraq.
The lawsuit alleges Titan and CACI sent interrogation teams from Guantanamo Bay where the U.S. government determined Geneva convention protections didn't apply to stateless al-Qaida terrorists and Taliban fighters to Iraq, where the third and fourth Geneva conventions were supposed to apply to prisoners of war and civilian detainees.
"In or around October 2003, five interrogation teams ... who had been conducting interrogations in Guantanamo were sent to Iraq to set up a 'Gitmo-style' prison at Abu Ghraib," the lawsuit states. Gitmo is a nickname for Guantanamo Bay.
Israel reportedly told Army investigators he arrived at Abu Ghraib on Oct. 14. His previous whereabouts are unknown.
The lawsuit alleges that, in addition to inflicting serious physical injuries, the defendants "summarily executed at least 15 persons" and "caused as many as 50 suicides."
It alleges that the specific instances of wrongful death, torture, rape and humiliation violate international law and are covered under the federal Alien Tort Claims Act.
Dan Guttman, an expert in government contracting and procurement processes at John Hopkins University, said the claims under the tort act may prove significant.
"The Alien Tort Claims Act was one of the first laws Congress passed in 1789," he said. "It basically says U.S. courts are available for folks who want to make claims for rights under the law of nations or treaties that have been violated."
"People from other countries can use U.S. courts because courts in their countries don't exist or are not adequate," he said.
But it might be difficult to prove Titan and CACI broke laws "if the company is working hand-in-glove with the government," he said.
"One individual might violate the Geneva Convention," he said, but "for RICO (racketeering), one of the critical things that will have to be shown is conspiracy, people acting together."
"Even if CACI tortured someone," he said, "was it an individual acting alone?"
Signal staff writer Judy O'Rourke contributed to this story.
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