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.

 


Russia returns six children to Ukraine: state media

Russia returns six children to Ukraine: state media
Updated 59 min 7 sec ago
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Russia returns six children to Ukraine: state media

Russia returns six children to Ukraine: state media
  • The children were reunited with their families at an event in the Qatari embassy in Moscow

Moscow: Russia has returned six children displaced by the conflict in Ukraine to their families in a deal brokered by Qatar, Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported on Wednesday.
Ukraine believes Russia has illegally taken more than 19,000 of its children since the start of its 2022 offensive, of which fewer than 400 have been returned.
The children — a group of boys aged six to 17 that included two brothers — were reunited with their families at an event in the Qatari embassy in Moscow, the agency reported.
The event was attended by the Qatari ambassador as well as officials representing Russia’s children’s rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova, TASS said.
Lvova-Belova is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court for unlawfully deporting children from Ukraine to Russia, a charge the Kremlin denies.
Ukraine did not immediately comment.
Since July 2023, Qatar has helped bring back dozens of children taken to Russia and occupied territories during the two-year conflict, an issue that is highly sensitive in Ukraine.
Some of the children’s parents were killed, while others were separated from their carers by the fast-moving front lines at the start of Russia’s offensive.
Some were living in Ukrainian orphanages in areas Russia then occupied.


UAE president to visit South Korea

UAE president to visit South Korea
Updated 22 May 2024
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UAE president to visit South Korea

UAE president to visit South Korea
  • The two leaders will discuss bilateral ties and explore opportunities for greater collaboration

ABU DHABI: UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan will make a two-day state visit to South Korea on May 28 at the invitation of President Yoon Suk Yeol, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

The two leaders will discuss bilateral ties and explore opportunities for greater collaboration across various sectors including trade, investment, energy and technology.

They will also address regional and international developments of common interest.

“The meeting comes within the framework of strategic partnership between the UAE and South Korea in line with their vision to achieve a better and more prosperous future for the countries,” the WAM statement said.


Saudi Arabia welcomes move by Norway, Ireland and Spain to formally recognize Palestinian state

Saudi Arabia welcomes move by Norway, Ireland and Spain to formally recognize Palestinian state
Updated 18 min 19 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia welcomes move by Norway, Ireland and Spain to formally recognize Palestinian state

Saudi Arabia welcomes move by Norway, Ireland and Spain to formally recognize Palestinian state
  • Palestinian Authority and its rival group Hamas both welcomed the recognition
  • Israel recalls envoys to Spain, Ireland and Norway for consultations

RIYADH/COPENHAGEN: Saudi Arabia said Wednesday it welcomed the “positive” decision taken by Norway, Spain, and Ireland to recognize a Palestinian state. 
The Kingdom said it appreciated this decision “which confirms the international consensus on the inherent right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” in a foreign ministry statement. 

The kingdom also called on more countries to swiftly take the same stance, “which would contribute to finding a reliable and irreversible path to achieve a just and lasting peace that fulfills the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Leaders of Norway, Spain and Ireland said on Wednesday they were formally going to recognize Palestine as a state.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said: “There cannot be peace in the Middle East if there is no recognition.”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also announced that the country’s council of ministers would recognize an independent Palestinian state on Tuesday May 28.

“Next Tuesday, May 28, Spain’s cabinet will approve the recognition of the Palestinian state,” he said, adding that his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu was putting the two state solution in “danger” with his policy of “pain and destruction” in the Gaza Strip.

Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said it was a move coordinated with Spain and Norway, “an historic and important day for Ireland and for Palestine.”

 

 

The Palestinian Authority and its rival group Hamas both welcomed the recognition of a Palestinian state by Ireland, Spain and Norway.

The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank territory while Hamas runs Gaza.

Jordan hailed the coordinated move as an “important and essential step towards Palestinian statehood.”

“We value this decision and consider it an important and essential step towards a two-state solution that embodies an independent, sovereign Palestinian state along the July 1967 borders,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told a press conference.

Several European Union countries have in the past weeks indicated that they plan to make the recognition, arguing a two-state solution is essential for lasting peace in the region.

Israel recalled envoys to Spain, Ireland and Norway over their moves to recognize a Palestinian state.

“Today, I am sending a sharp message to Ireland and Norway: Israel will not go over this in silence. I have just ordered the return of the Israeli ambassadors from Dublin and Oslo to Israel for further consultations in Jerusalem,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a statement.

Sanchez said in March that Spain and Ireland, along with Slovenia and Malta, had agreed to take their first steps toward Palestinian recognition, seeing a two-state solution as essential for lasting peace.

The efforts come as a mounting death toll in Gaza from Israel’s offensive to rout Hamas prompts calls globally for a ceasefire and lasting solution for peace in the region.

Norway, which is not a member of the European Union but mirror its moves, has been an ardent supporter of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The terror has been committed by Hamas and militant groups who are not supporters of a two-state solution and the state of Israel,” the Norwegian government leader said.

“Palestine has a fundamental right to an independent state,” Gahr Store told a press conference.

The move comes as Israeli forces have led assaults on the northern and southern edges of the Gaza Strip in May, causing a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine.

The Scandinavian country “will therefore regard Palestine as an independent state with all the rights and obligations that entails,” Gahr Store said.

Norway’s recognition of a Palestine state comes more than 30 years after the first Oslo agreement was signed in 1993.

Since then, “the Palestinians have taken important steps toward a two-state solution,” the Norwegian government said.

It said that the World Bank determined that Palestine had met key criteria to function as a state in 2011, that national institutions have been built up to provide the population with important services.

“The war in Gaza and the constant expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank still mean that the situation in Palestine is more difficult than it has been in decades,” the Norwegian government said.


China to continue to strengthen ties with Iran, state media says

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. (AFP file photo)
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. (AFP file photo)
Updated 22 May 2024
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China to continue to strengthen ties with Iran, state media says

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. (AFP file photo)
  • “Iran has lost outstanding leaders and China has lost good friends and partners, said Wang, according to Xinhua news

BEIJING: China will continue to strengthen strategic cooperation with Iran, safeguard common interests, and make endeavors for regional and world peace, Chinese state media reported on Tuesday, citing comments from Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Wang made the remarks in talks on Tuesday with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahdi Safari, while attending a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
“Iran has lost outstanding leaders and China has lost good friends and partners, said Wang, according to Xinhua news. “In this difficult time, China firmly stands by Iranian friends,” he said, referring to the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday.

 


Singapore Air says 80 people from turbulence-hit flight still in Bangkok

Singapore Air says 80 people from turbulence-hit flight still in Bangkok
Updated 22 May 2024
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Singapore Air says 80 people from turbulence-hit flight still in Bangkok

Singapore Air says 80 people from turbulence-hit flight still in Bangkok
  • Flight SQ321 had 211 passengers and 18 crew on board when it encountered sudden turbulence
  • A 73-year-old British passenger died of a suspected heart attack and at least 30 people were injured

SINGAPORE: Singapore Airlines said 74 passengers and six crew members are still in Bangkok, including those receiving medical care and their family members, after a flight encountered severe turbulence on Tuesday.

The airline said in a statement that an additional five passengers who were on board the SQ321 flight will return to Singapore on Wednesday, and one crew member is set to return on Thursday.

The scheduled London-Singapore flight was diverted to Bangkok after the plane was buffeted by turbulence that flung passengers and crew around the cabin, slamming some into the ceiling. A 73-year-old British passenger died of a suspected heart attack.

“I saw people from across the aisle going completely horizontal, hitting the ceiling and landing back down in like really awkward positions. People, like, getting massive gashes in the head, concussions,” Dzafran Azmir, a 28-year-old student on board the flight said after arriving in Singapore.

Photographs from the interior of the plane showed gashes in the overhead cabin panels, oxygen masks and panels hanging from the ceiling and luggage strewn around. A passenger said some people’s heads had slammed into the lights above the seats and punctured the panels.

Singapore Airlines took 131 passengers and 12 crew on the relief flight from Bangkok that reached Singapore just before 5 a.m. (2100 GMT). There were 211 passengers including many Australians, British and Singaporeans, and 18 crew on board the original flight; injured fliers and their families remained in Bangkok.

“On behalf of Singapore Airlines, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased,” Singapore Airlines CEO Goh Choon Phong said in a video message.

Singapore’s Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) is looking into the incident, and the US National Transportation Safety Board is also sending representatives for support.

The plane encountered sudden extreme turbulence, Goh said, and the pilot then declared a medical emergency and diverted to Bangkok.

Aircraft tracking provider FlightRadar 24 said at around 0749 GMT the flight encountered “a rapid change in vertical rate, consistent with a sudden turbulence event,” based on flight tracking data.

“There were thunderstorms, some severe, in the area at the time,” it said.

The sudden turbulence occurred over the Irrawaddy Basin in Myanmar about 10 hours into the flight, the airline said. Turbulence has many causes, most obviously the unstable weather patterns that trigger storms, but this flight could have been affected by clear air turbulence, which is very difficult to detect.

Turbulence-related airline accidents are the most common type of accident, according to a 2021 NTSB study.

While the airline said 30 people were injured, Samitivej Hospital in Thailand said it was treating 71 passengers.

From 2009 through 2018, the US agency found that turbulence accounted for more than a third of reported airline accidents and most resulted in one or more serious injuries, but no aircraft damage.

Singapore Airlines, which is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading airlines and is a benchmark for much of the industry, has not had any major incidents in recent years.

Its last accident resulting in casualties was a flight from Singapore to Los Angeles via Taipei, where it crashed on Oct. 31, 2000 at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, killing 83 of the 179 people on board.