Administration seeks dismissal of U.S. vets' suit

Government says claims over Gulf War torture threaten Iraq rebuilding

March 23, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Bush administration lawyers urged the Supreme Court yesterday to dismiss a lawsuit against Iraq brought by U.S. pilots and soldiers who were captured and tortured by Saddam Hussein's regime during the Persian Gulf War of 1991, saying the president believes it could hurt the rebuilding effort in Iraq.

Courts must defer to the president's determination that a nearly $1 billion damage award won by the former prisoners of war "would seriously undermine funding for the essential tasks of the new Iraqi government," Paul Clement, acting U.S. solicitor general, told the justices.

The case of the former POWs, due to be acted on by the court next month, has rankled some military and veterans groups. They say the administration is turning its back on those who fought in the Gulf War.

The 17 former POWs and their families sued Iraq under a 1996 law that opened the courthouse door to claims against terrorist states that practice torture, bombings and hijackings. They said they had been beaten, starved and subjected to electric shocks when they were held as prisoners by the Iraqis. Some emerged with broken bones as well as psychological injuries that have not healed.

The lead plaintiff, Lt. Col. Clifford Acree, was shot down by a missile Jan. 17, 1991. He ejected from his plane and suffered a neck injury. He was taken prisoner, was blindfolded and handcuffed, then beaten until he lost consciousness. His nose was broken, his skull was fractured and he lost 30 pounds during 47 days of captivity.

Two years ago, a judge awarded the POWs nearly $1 billion in damages and said the award could be paid with the frozen assets of Hussein's regime.

Shortly after, the Bush administration moved to have the verdict thrown out, saying it interfered with U.S. plans to rebuild Iraq.

The U.S. appeals court in Washington, siding with the administration, voided the judge's verdict last year. But the POWs appealed to the Supreme Court, saying Congress gave torture victims a right to sue "state sponsors of terror."

"Colonel Acree and our brave American servicemen were brutally tortured during the Gulf War, including having their bones broken and being starved. Yet the Justice Department continues to fight against them in court to deny their right to compensation as the law provides," said Paul Kamenar, senior counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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