An American contractor hired by the military to provide translation services for interrogators at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has reached a $5 million settlement with scores of detainees who accused its employees of complicity in abusing them, according to financial disclosure documents.
The widespread abuse of prisoners held at Abu Ghraib by the United States military early in the Iraq war came to light in 2004, and was one of the key events that inflamed Iraqi public opinion against the American occupation.
A military inquiry eight years ago confirmed many instances of abuse and led to prosecutions and disciplinary actions against American soldiers and officers, but contractors were not charged. The settlement was the first known instance of an American contractor making a payment over the abuse of prisoners in the Iraq war.
A similar case against another contractor, filed by four other plaintiffs, is expected to go to trial in Maryland this year. In the settlement, the contractor provided compensation to 71 Iraqi plaintiffs held at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq.
Disclosure of the settlement, completed in October, came in a filing two months ago by Engility Holdings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, stating that “we and the plaintiffs agreed to resolve and dismiss the action in return for a payment of $5.28 million.”
A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Susan Burke, said that the settlement was under seal and that she was not allowed to discuss its terms. Company officials said Engility would not comment.
The company’s filing said the plaintiffs had claimed that employees of the Titan Corporation, later known as L-3 Services and spun off into Engility, “either participated in, approved of, or condoned the mistreatment of prisoners by United States military officials.”
The Associated Press first disclosed the filing, which it said had initially gone unnoticed. The A.P. quoted Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which also represented the plaintiffs, saying, “Private military contractors played a serious but often underreported role in the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib.”
Previous lawsuits by Iraqi victims of the abuses at Abu Ghraib failed. A lawsuit by more than 250 prisoners against Titan and CACI International wound its way all the way to the Supreme Court, which declined to review a holding by a lower court in the District of Columbia that the companies had immunity as government contractors.
The new case, though, was filed in Federal District Court in Maryland and allowed to proceed. That led Engility to settle, although CACI has not done so. Engility estimates that its revenues last year were $1.6 billion, according to the company’s Web site.
CACI, a military contractor, provided interrogation services at the prison. The plaintiffs complained of “heinous acts” and torture at the hands of military and contractor personnel, including rape and sexual assault, beatings, forced nudity, humiliation and isolation.
By JOHN H. CUSHMAN Jr. The New York Times