Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army

In this June 22, 2004, photo, a detainee in an outdoor solitary confinement cell talks with a military police officer at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP)
In this June 22, 2004, photo, a detainee in an outdoor solitary confinement cell talks with a military police officer at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP)
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Updated 23 April 2024
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Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army

Jury deliberating in Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse civil case; contractor casts blame on Army
  • Raisi said the killings by Israel in Gaza were being committed with the support of the United States and other Western countries

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia: A lawyer for the military contractor being sued by three survivors of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq told jurors Monday that the plaintiffs are suing the wrong people.
“If you believe they were abused ... tell them to make their claim against the US government,” said John O’Connor, defense attorney for Reston, Virginia-based military contractor CACI, during closing arguments at the civil trial in federal court. “Why didn’t they sue the people who actively abused them?”
The lawsuit brought by the three former Abu Ghraib detainees marks the first time a US jury has weighed claims of abuse at the prison, which was the site of a worldwide scandal 20 years ago when photos became public showing US soldiers smiling as they inflicted abusive and humiliating treatment on detainees in the months after the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The suit alleges that civilian interrogators supplied by CACI to Abu Ghraib contributed to the torture the plaintiffs by conspiring with military police to “soften up” detainees for interrogations.
CACI, in its closing arguments, relied in part on a legal theory known as the “borrowed servant doctrine,” which states an employer can’t be liable for its employees’ conduct if another entity is controlling and directing those employees’ work.
In this case, CACI says the Army was directing and controlling its employees in their work as interrogators.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs disputed that CACI relinquished control of its interrogators to the Army. At trial, they introduced evidence that CACI’s contract with the Army required CACI to supervise its own employees. Jurors also saw a section of the Army Field Manual that pertains to contractors and states that “only contractors may supervise and give direction to their employees.
Muhammad Faridi, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, told jurors that the case is simpler than CACI’s lawyers are trying to make it.
He said that if CACI interrogators conspired with military police to inflict abuse on detainees to soften them up for interrogations, then the jury can find CACI liable even if CACI interrogators never themselves inflicted abuse on any of the three plaintiffs.
All three plaintiffs testified to horrible treatment including beatings, sexual assaults, being threatened with dogs and forced to wear women’s underwear, but said the abuse was either inflicted by soldiers, or by civilians who couldn’t be identified as CACI workers. In some cases, the detainees said they couldn’t see who was abusing them because they had bags over their heads.
As evidence of CACI’s complicity, jurors heard testimony from two retired generals who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004; both concluded that CACI interrogators engaged in misconduct.
Faridi told the jury that while many of the soldiers who abused detainees were convicted and sentenced to prison, CACI has not yet been held accountable.
“When our country’s military found out about the abuse, they didn’t cover it up,” Faridi said. “Our country’s military held the military police members who were perpetrating the abuse accountable. CACI escaped liability.”
And Faridi said that even when the Army asked CACI to hold its its interrogators responsible, it still sought to evade responsibility. In May 2004, the Army asked CACI to fire one of its interrogators, Dan Johnson, after one of the Abu Ghraib photos showed Johnson interrogating a detainee who was forced into an awkward crouching position that investigators concluded was an illegal stress position.
CACI contested Johnson’s dismissal, writing that the “photo depicts what appears to be a relatively relaxed scene” and saying that “squatting is common and unremarkable among Iraqis.”
“I’ll leave that to you to consider whether you find that offensive,” Faridi told the jury Monday.
At trial, CACI employees testified they defended Johnson’s work because Army personnel had asked them through back channels to do so. O’Connor said that out of the many hundreds of photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib, the photo of Johnson is the only one depicting a CACI employee, and it shows him questioning not one of the plaintiffs but an Iraqi policeman after someone had smuggled a gun into the prison and shot at military police.
O’Connor also apologized for parts of his case that were “long, annoying and boring” but said he had no choice because the US government claimed that some evidence, including the identities of interrogators, was classified. So jurors, rather than hearing live testimony, were subjected to long audio recordings in which the interrogators’ voices were doctored and their answers were often interrupted by government lawyers who instructed them to not answer the question.
The trial was delayed by more than 15 years of legal wrangling and questions over whether CACI could be sued. Some of the debate focused on the question of immunity — there had long been an assumption that the US government would hold sovereign immunity from a civil suit, and CACI argued that, as a government contractor, it would enjoy derivative immunity.
But US District Judge Leonie Brinkema, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, determined that the US government cannot claim immunity in cases involving fundamental violations of international norms, such as torture allegations. And, as a result, CACI could not claim any kind of derivative immunity, either.
The eight-person jury deliberated about three hours before pausing Monday afternoon without reaching a verdict. Deliberations are set to resume Wednesday.

 


Pentagon vows to keep weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces a renewed assault by Russia

Pentagon vows to keep weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces a renewed assault by Russia
Updated 4 sec ago
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Pentagon vows to keep weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces a renewed assault by Russia

Pentagon vows to keep weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces a renewed assault by Russia
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is committing to keep US weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces one of its toughest moments against a renewed assault by Russia
WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin committed Monday to keeping US weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces one of its toughest moments against a renewed assault by Russia.
Austin and as many as 50 defense leaders from Europe and around the world were meeting Monday to coordinate more military aid to Ukraine, as Kyiv tries to hold off a Russian offensive in the northeast while launching its own massive assault on the Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula.
“We’re meeting in a moment of challenge,” Austin said, noting that Russia’s new onslaught of Kharkiv showed why the continued commitment by the countries was vital to keep coming. Austin vowed to keep US weapons moving “week after week.”
The US announced no new aid packages Monday, even as Ukrainian forces continue to complain that weapons are just trickling into the country after being stalled for months due to congressional gridlock over funding. Pentagon officials have said that weapons pre-positioned in Europe began moving into Ukraine soon after the aid funding was approved.
It’s unclear how much of that has reached some of the front lines, where Russian troops have intensified their assault.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday during a visit to China that Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region aims to create a buffer zone but that there are no plans to capture the city.
Ukrainian troops have been fighting to halt Russian advances in the Kharkiv region, while also increasing their offensive attacks in Crimea, including on military infrastructure sites on the Black Sea coast and in the Russian-occupied city of Sevastopol.
Ukraine has also struggled to get enough troops to the front lines, as the war drags on into its third year and fighting takes its toll. In an effort to increase troop numbers, President Volodymyr Zelensky signed two laws, allowing prisoners to join the army and increasing fines for draft dodgers fivefold. The controversial mobilization law goes into effect on Saturday.
In the three weeks since President Joe Biden signed the $95 billion foreign aid package, the US has sent $1.4 billion in weapons pulled from Pentagon stockpiles and announced it was providing $6 billion in funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. USAI pays for longer-term contracts with the defense industry and means that the weapons could take many months or years to arrive.
In recent packages the US has agreed to send High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and rockets for them, as well as munitions for Patriot and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, artillery, anti-aircraft and anti-tank munitions, and an array of armored vehicles, such as Bradley and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
The US is also providing additional coastal and riverine patrol boats, trailers, demolition munitions, high-speed anti-radiation missiles, protective gear, spare parts and other weapons and equipment.
The State Department has also approved a proposed emergency sale of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to Ukraine for an estimated $30 million. State said Ukraine has asked to buy three of the rocket systems, which would be funded by the government of Germany.
The US has now provided about $50.6 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022.

Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai
Updated 5 min 20 sec ago
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Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

NEW DELHI: A-list actors in India called on voters to cast their ballots on Monday, as the country’s massive general election reaches Bollywood capital Mumbai, entering its fifth phase. 

More than 968 million people are eligible to vote in India, as the world’s largest electoral exercise began on April 19 in a seven-phase election spread out over over six weeks, with ballots set to be counted on June 4. 

Voter numbers have slumped compared to previous polls, with the first four phases of the election held on April 19, April 26, May 7 and May 13 seeing a turnout of 66.95 percent, 66.7 percent, 65.7 percent and 69.1 percent, respectively. 

In India’s financial capital Mumbai, located in Maharashtra state, Bollywood stars were among the voters queuing since early morning to cast their ballots on Monday, as millions vote in the fifth phase of the election, where 49 seats are up for grabs across six states and two federally administered territories. 

“I came here at 7 o’clock in the morning when the polling booth opened,” actor Akshay Kumar told reporters after casting his vote. 

“I want my India to be developed and strong. I voted, keeping that in mind. (Indians) should vote according to what they think is best for them.” 

Actor Rajkummar Rao said that voting was a “big responsibility” for the nation. 

“It’s very, very important. If, through us, people can get influenced, it’s the best we can do to make people aware of the importance of voting. It’s our moral responsibility toward the nation. I appeal to all of you to come out and vote,” he said. 

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan had also urged Indians to use their right to vote over the weekend, taking to X — where he has more than 44 million followers — to make the public call. 

“As responsible Indian citizens we must exercise our right to vote this Monday in Maharashtra. Let’s carry out our duty as Indians and vote keeping our country’s best interests in mind,” Khan said. 

This election sees Prime Minister Narendra Modi chasing a rare third straight five-year term in power, targeting 400 out of the 543 parliamentary seats for the National Democratic Alliance led by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power since 2014. 

Analysts say Maharashtra will likely be a swing state as it sends the second-highest number of representatives to the lower house of parliament after Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 lawmakers. It may affect the BJP’s initial strong projections in the polls. 

“There are many social issues that are going to be crucial in the state. For instance there is an agrarian distress, the issue of  reservation for the local Maratha community, the general issues like price rise and unemployment that are going against the  establishment,” said Shailendra R Kharat, political science professor at Pune University. 

Though the BJP swept 42 seats in the state in the 2019 elections, Kharat said he expects the ruling party alliance to get only 30 at most. 

Ashok Wankhede, a political analyst based in Maharashtra, said the BJP has not been able “to carry the trust” of the people.

“Maharashtra is the state where the BJP-led alliance is losing the most. This is going to be a major swing state,” he told Arab News. 

“To talk about 400 seats is a war cry. The fight in this election is open and it’s not going to be easy for the BJP to form the government. The last four phases of the election have not been very promising for the BJP.”


Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid

Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid
Updated 27 min 41 sec ago
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Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid

Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid
  • Rights groups have called jail term against Ilya Baburin a record sentence, and stressed that the arson never happened
  • Prosecutors accused Baburin of seeking to help the Azov battalion

MOSCOW: A Russian court on Monday sentenced a man to 25 years in jail for planning to set fire to a Siberian military enlistment office in 2022, the year Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine.
Rights groups have called jail term against Ilya Baburin a record sentence, and stressed that the arson never happened.
Russia saw a wave of arson attacks on army offices however after the Kremlin announced an unpopular military mobilization drive in September 2022.
A military court in Novosibirsk handed down the sentence. Prosecutors accused Baburin of seeking to help the Azov battalion, a branch of the Ukrainian military branded a terror organization in Russia.
Baburin “created a plan to set the military commissariat in Novosibirsk on fire,” prosecutors said.
They said he recruited somebody to throw a Molotov cocktail at the army office but the unnamed person instead reported him to the FSB security service.
Baburin was acting on Ukrainian orders and that he had “established contact” with members of the Azov battalion, prosecutors said.
TASS news agency published footage of Baburin in court, wearing a tracksuit and smiling inside a glass cage for defendants.
“I did not set anything on fire,” Baburin said in court, according to the independent Dozhd TV channel.
He accused the FSB of trying to “gain points” during Moscow’s Ukraine campaign and of “investigating absurd crimes.”
Baburin, who was arrested in September 2022, was found guilty of a string of offenses, including “terrorism” and “treason.”
His lawyer Vasily Dubkov argued in court this month that “nobody was harmed,” according to a transcript of a statement delivered in court and published by the Perviy Otdel rights group.
“Baburin does not look like a spy giving out state secrets and did not have or hand out state secrets,” Dubkov said.
Separately, a military court in Saint Petersburg on Monday sentenced a cadet to eight years in prison for attempting to set railway infrastructure on fire last year.
The court said Timur Kursanov was undergoing military service at an army institute and had taken orders from an unnamed person online who wanted to “involve him in arson acts in exchange for money aimed at destroying transport infrastructure.”
The court said he was arrested during a failed attempt to set fire to a railway intersection in Saint Petersburg in May last year.


Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port

Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port
Updated 43 min 36 sec ago
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Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port

Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port
  • The disaster killed six construction workers and snarled traffic into Baltimore Harbor
  • Several tugboats are escorting the Dali on its 2.5-mile path to the marine terminal

BALTIMORE: The container ship that caused the deadly collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge was refloated Monday and has begun slowly moving back to port.
The Dali has remained at the collapse site since it lost power and crashed into one of the bridge’s supporting columns on March 26, killing six construction workers and snarling traffic into Baltimore Harbor.
The ship appeared to start moving shortly after 6 a.m. as crews started to maneuver it out of the wreckage. It started and stopped a few times before slowly backing away from the collapse site.
Officials said it would move at about 1 mph on the roughly 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) trip, a fraction of the speed it was traveling when it lost power and crashed into the bridge. Pieces of the bridge’s steel trusses protruded from its bow, which remained covered in concrete from the collapsed roadway.
Officials have said they plan to unload the ship’s containers and complete some short-term repairs while it’s docked in Baltimore.
Monday morning’s high tide had been expected to bring the best conditions for crews to refloat and start moving the ship, according to a statement from the Key Bridge Response Unified Command.
Several tugboats were escorting the Dali on its path to the marine terminal. The work is expected to last at least 21 hours.
Crews conducted a controlled demolition on May 13 to break down the largest remaining span of the collapsed bridge.
The Dali experienced four electrical blackouts within about 10 hours before leaving the Port of Baltimore for Sri Lanka and hitting the bridge, according to a preliminary report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.


Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry

Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry
Updated 50 min 36 sec ago
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Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry

Philippines blames China for loss of giant clams in disputed shoal and urges environmental inquiry
  • Philippines has blamed Chinese fishermen for a massive loss of giant clams in a disputed shoal controlled by China’s coast guard
  • There was no immediate response from China

MANILA: The Philippines blamed Chinese fishermen on Monday for a massive loss of giant clams in a disputed shoal controlled by China’s coast guard in the South China Sea and urged an international inquiry into the amount of environmental damage in the area.
The Philippine coast guard presented surveillance photographs of Chinese fishermen harvesting large numbers of giant clams for a number of years in a lagoon at Scarborough Shoal, but said signs of such activities stopped in March 2019.
Parts of the surrounding coral appeared to be badly scarred, in what the coast guard said was apparently a futile search by the Chinese for more clams. The lagoon is a prominent fishing area which Filipinos call Bajo de Masinloc and the Chinese calll Huangyan Dao off the northwestern Philippines.
“Those were the last remaining giant clams that we saw in Bajo de Masinloc,” Philippine coast guard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said at a news conference.
“We are alarmed and worried about the situation that’s happening there,” National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya said. He said China should allow an independent inquiry by experts from the United Nations and environmental groups.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Beijing has repeatedly asserted its sovereignty over much of the busy South China Sea. The territorial disputes involve China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. The Indonesian navy has also been involved in skirmishes with the Chinese coast guard and fishing vessels in the Natuna waters in the margins of the South China Sea.
The Philippines has adopted a policy of publicizing China’s increasingly assertive actions in the contested waters to gain international support, and the news conference was its latest effort to condemn China’s stewardship of Scarborough Shoal.
China effectively seized the shoal in 2012 after a standoff that ended when Philippine government ships withdrew based on what Manila said was a deal brokered by American officials to ease the dangerous confrontation. China reneged on its promise to remove its ships and has since surrounded the shoal with coast guard and suspected militia ships, according to Philippine officials.
Since then, the Chinese coast guard has had a series of skirmishes with Philippine patrol ships and fishing boats, which have been prevented from entering the lagoon, ringed by mostly submerged coral outcrops. Three weeks ago, Chinese ships fired powerful water cannons that damaged Philippine coast guard and fisheries vessels.
“They’re preventing us from getting into the lagoon,” Malaya said. “We can ask third-party environmental groups or even the United Nations to do a fact-finding mission to determine the environmental situation.”
The Philippines has brought its territorial disputes with China to international arbitration and largely won. The 2016 ruling invalidated China’s expansive claims to much of the South China Sea, a key global trade route, on historical grounds and cited Chinese government actions that resulted in environmental damage in the offshore region.
China refused to participate in the arbitration, rejected its ruling and continues to defy it.
The territorial hostilities have sparked fears of a larger conflict that could involve the US, which has warned that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines, its long-time treaty ally, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.