Two decades after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, the US government has not provided any compensation or recognition to the Iraqis who suffered torture and abuse in its prisons, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The report, published on Monday, said that HRW found no evidence that the US government has paid any compensation or other redress to victims of detainee abuse in Iraq, nor has it issued any individual apologies or other amends.
The report also said that some victims tried to apply for compensation through the US Foreign Claims Act, but faced legal obstacles and bureaucratic hurdles. Other victims attempted to seek justice in US courts, but their lawsuits were dismissed on the grounds of immunity for US forces.
The report highlighted the case of Taleb al-Majli, a former detainee at Abu Ghraib prison, who described being tortured by US forces after his arrest in November 2003. He was released without charge in March 2005, but suffered from physical and psychological trauma as a result of his ordeal.
Al-Majli told HRW that he received no compensation or apology from the US government, and that he struggled to find work and support his family. He said he felt humiliated and abandoned by both the US and the Iraqi authorities.
“I want them [the US] to admit what they did to me and to others, and to apologize to us,” he said. “I want them to compensate us for what they did to us, for our health, for our dignity, for our future.”
HRW said that the US government has a moral and legal obligation to provide redress to the Iraqi victims of its torture and abuse. It urged the US to establish a mechanism to receive and process claims from Iraqis who suffered harm as a result of US military operations, and to provide them with adequate compensation and other forms of reparation.
HRW also called on the US to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the torture and abuse of detainees in Iraq, and to ensure that such violations are not repeated in future conflicts.
“US officials have indicated that they prefer to leave torture in the past, but the long-term effects of torture are still a daily reality for many Iraqis and their families,” said Sarah Yager, Washington director at HRW. “The US should acknowledge its responsibility for the harm it caused, and take concrete steps to make amends.”
The report is based on interviews with 27 former detainees who were held by US forces in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, as well as lawyers, activists, and experts. It documents the types of abuse that detainees endured, such as beatings, electric shocks, sexual violence, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and mock executions.
The report also examines the legal challenges that victims faced in seeking compensation or accountability from the US government. It notes that the US Foreign Claims Act, which allows US military commanders to pay claims for death, injury, or property damage caused by non-combat activities of US forces abroad, excludes claims arising from combat operations or detention.
The report also criticizes the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which shields foreign governments from lawsuits in US courts unless they waive their immunity or fall under certain exceptions. The report argues that this doctrine has been applied too broadly by US courts to dismiss cases brought by Iraqi victims of torture against US officials or contractors.
The report recommends that the US Congress amend the Foreign Claims Act to allow claims from detainees who were abused by US forces in Iraq or elsewhere. It also urges the US executive branch to waive sovereign immunity for cases involving serious human rights violations by US personnel or contractors abroad.
The report further suggests that the US create a special fund or commission to provide compensation and other forms of reparation to Iraqi victims of torture and abuse. It says that such a mechanism should be transparent, accessible, fair, and respectful of the dignity and privacy of the victims.
The report also appeals to the US Department of Justice to reopen investigations into allegations of detainee abuse in Iraq and prosecute those responsible where there is sufficient evidence. It says that impunity for torture undermines the rule of law and erodes public trust in democratic institutions.
The report concludes by saying that providing redress to Iraqi victims of torture is not only a legal duty but also a moral imperative for the US. It says that acknowledging and repairing the harm caused by torture would help restore the dignity of the victims, foster reconciliation between the two countries, and uphold human rights values.