I have no words... ------------------------ Los Angeles Times April 26, 2005 High Court Dismisses POWs' Torture Claim Against Iraq The White House had argued against a $1-billion verdict won after the 1991 Gulf War. By David G. Savage, Times Staff Writer WASHINGTON Seventeen members of the U.S. military who were taken prisoner and tortured by the Iraqis during the 1991 Persian Gulf War lost their legal battle to hold Iraq liable for their detention and injuries as the Supreme Court on Monday 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 former POWs two years ago. The court's refusal to hear the case spares the administration from having to go before the justices to argue against Americans who had been tortured. The former POWs sued Iraq and the regime of Saddam Hussein under the terms of a 1996 anti-terrorism law that opened the courthouse door to claims from Americans injured or tortured at the hands of "state sponsors of terror." Their story was little known, since most Americans perceived the Persian Gulf War as a TV spectacular in which U.S. forces pounded and destroyed Iraq's army in a few weeks. But during their time in captivity, the plaintiffs 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 Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. But by the time the men won their claim in court and were to be paid out of the Hussein regime assets that had been frozen as punishment for the invasion of Kuwait the U.S. had invaded Iraq and toppled the government. To the former POWs' surprise, the Bush administration went to court seeking to nullify the award. The government argued that Iraq, under American occupation, was no longer a state sponsor of terrorism. Moreover, President Bush canceled the sanctions against Iraq imposed at the end of the Gulf War and moved to shield the $1.7 billion in frozen assets that, the administration said, was needed to rebuild the nation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed with the administration last year and ruled that "weighty foreign policy interests" called for dismissing the lawsuit. In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs argued that U.S. law and the Geneva Convention forbade the torture of POWs and prohibited 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," lead plaintiff Clifford Acree, a Marine lieutenant colonel when he was captured, said recently. Shot down over Iraq by a surface-to-air missile on Jan. 17, 1991, the first day of the war, Acree was injured when he ejected from his jet; after his capture, he was blindfolded and beaten by the Iraqis until he lost consciousness. He was held captive for 47 days. In a recent news briefing, Acree argued that if the lawsuit were dismissed, "what message do we send for the future?" The former POWs had the support of a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Sens. George Allen (R-Va.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the justices to restore the verdict. Last month, Bush administration lawyers urged the court to dismiss the case. They said "the presidential determination [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 Monday, the high court turned down the appeal in Acree vs. Iraq and the United States. "The court's decision sends the wrong message to those who would torture or kill Americans," said Paul Kamenar, counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, a conservative advocacy group that filed the brief for the lawmakers on behalf of the onetime POWs. He called the decision unfortunate. Although the trial judge who heard the case awarded damages that totaled nearly $1 billion, lawyers for the former POWs told government officials that they would settle the claim for a fraction of that amount. The lawyers said administration officials refused to discuss a settlement. Monday's dismissal ends the lawsuit. The plaintiffs will receive no money.