International Law and Overseas Military Contractors — Corporate Liability for Torture? — About Time.

View of the Capital during President Obama's First Inaugural (Jan. 2009)

View of the Capital during President Obama’s First Inaugural (Jan. 2009)

       Engility Holdings, a military contractor, recently settled a case which alleged torture by its contractors in Iraq in violation of international law.  It was a case brought by former detainees. Previous conflicting federal court rulings, in 2009, had left the general issue of liability of military contractors in a combat zone unclear. 
 Another lawsuit against the contractor CACI International is currently proceeding in the federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia. The Virginia Supreme Court had previously refused to throw that case out. The Obama administration, in 2011, successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that  earlier cases were premature and should not be decided. However, the Obama Justice Dept. subsequently argued in Richmond for the present case to go forward.
 It is in the interest of the United States to follow international law. It is in the interest of the United States for the Obama administration to be more forceful and consistent in upholding the rule of law against torture. It is good legal policy and good foreign policy. It is also what is required by basic American values and global standards.
As President Obama declared in his Inaugural Address in January 2009,   “Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man ….” In his forthcoming inaugural address, in January 2013, President Obama should make it clear that torture will not be tolerated by the courts of the United States. That liability will be imposed on U.S. corporations no matter where those actions occur.
                    “Contractor’s Torture Settlement  Milestone.” Wall Street Journal (Jan. 10, 2013)

About Stuart Malawer

Distinguished Service Professor of Law & International Trade at George Mason University (Schar School of Public Policy).
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