By Laura Fawaz, Contributing Reporter
Attorney Shereef Akeel works to support detainees abused at Abu Ghraib.
Troy, MIâ€“Nine years after the battle began; a Troy lawyer was granted a trail in getting justice for the detainees tortured at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Some background information: The American invasion into Iraq was in March 2003. And in the following year, a man by the name of Haidar Saleh visited attorney Shereef Akeel, bringing an interpreter along with him. Saleh came seeking his rights as he explained the ordeal that he went through in Abu Ghraib, how he was violated and tortured by the American Army men and women. â€œHe said it was in Abu Ghraib, and I said, â€˜Whatâ€™s that?â€™ â€ Akeel said.
Saleh began describing how he and seven other detainees were striped nude with a rope tied to each of their genitals. The rope was then pulled on one side so that all of the men would then topple over on each other; still nude. A hesitant Akeel debated if these stories were accurate, or a fabricated story. Then he thought, as a Muslim and Arab man himself, he knows that such open talk about oneâ€™s body parts and relations of any kind, does not come easy. And as Saleh gave descriptive details into the methods of torture that he and the other detainees went through, Akeel knew that these were accurate accounts, and that justice needed to be served.
Two weeks later, in a 60 Minutes broadcast, the infamous photos came out that made the place of Abu Ghraib, the bone-chilling site that it is known for today. They are the photos of the detainees with black bags over their faces, stacked on top of each other to make a pyramid, while in the nude. Some photos even included army men and women smiling and posing with the abused detainees. Thatâ€™s when Akeel, and his associates, along with a few human rights organizations, went to Iraq to verify the situation for themselves, and to seek out the other victims.
In Iraq, Akeel found that these army men and women who were doing the torture, were backed by a civilian group contracted by the American government, called Caci PT (Premier Technology). Akeel noted that much of the information that was easy to come by was due to the moral conscience of other army men and women who knew what was happening, and more than happy to report it to their higher ups.
The official mission began then, to hold accountable Caci PT and the rest of the individuals responsible. When Caci made an agreement to work for the American government in Iraq, they signed an agreement that coincides with international law and the Geneva Convention. â€œThey participated in tarnishing our countryâ€™s image and itâ€™s important to remove that tarnish as much as possible, and part of that is to hold them accountable for their misdeeds,â€ Akeel said.
There are now four men, former detainees tortured, who are being represented in this trail. Three of them are still living in Iraq, and the other one, a reporter, is living is Qatar. All of them though have been to America and have spoken with Akeel, his associates, and with certain government officials. Though they do need to return to the U.S. for depositions and medical exams, though recent attempts have been unsuccessful. Last March, the three men in Iraq were ready with visas in hand at the airport, ready to come to America. Then an Iraqi officer came to them with a message from an American who had just called with a to tell them they do not need to come after all. Some still-unknown U.S. official or agency insisted that they not be on that flight. They havenâ€™t been able to travel to the U.S. since, even though the judge has required them to submit to questioning in person.
From that, Caci PT, the company whose Akeelâ€™s clients are claiming were the master minds behind the abuse at Abu Gharib done through the hands of the American Military, is arguing for the trail to be dismissed. Their reasoning: three out of four of the men have not been in American a second time to thoroughly meet and be interviewed by all parties involved in the case.
â€œThere needs to be accountability for all misdeeds,â€ said Akeel, 48, who in nine years since this case began, has changed firms, taken out personal loans and held fund-raisers to help pay for his various lawsuits.
â€œCaci PT, their the ones that till this day, have not been held accountable for their participation in the abuse in Abu Ghraib, and this is the aim of our claim.â€
From this, Akeel has been in an active battle since 2004, to compensate the detainees tortured at Abu Ghraib, for the emotional, physical, and specifically, sexual abuses. All this at the hands of American military, and allegedly ran by Caci PT. Akeelâ€™s tactic: the 1789 Alien Tote Claim Act, which calls for equality and justice for all human beings, not just for Americans. This allows violations of international law to be heard by U.S. judges and juries. Laura Pitter, an adviser to Human Rights Watch in New York, said if any case deserves to survive the decision, itâ€™s one like this, since â€œAll the conduct occurred in Iraq, which was governed by the United States.â€
â€œOur lawsuit is the only lawsuit around in the country right now aimed to hold them [Caci PT] accountable for what they did â€¦ and thatâ€™s nine years later, weâ€™re like the energizer bunny, weâ€™re not going to stop until we hold them accountable,â€ said Akeel.