Abu Ghraib Contractors Sued Under RICO Statutes

An unusual racketeering lawsuit filed by human rights lawyers accuses U.S. civilian contractors at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq of conspiring to execute, rape and torture prisoners to boost corporate profits from military payments.

Some of the new abuse allegations were among the cruelest described so far within the Iraqi prisons.

One person, identified in court documents only as a prisoner named Rasheed, told lawyers his tongue was shocked with electricity and his toenails pulled out. Another person, identified only as a prisoner named Ahmed, said he was forced to watch while his 63-year-old father, Ibrahiem, was tortured to death.

A plaintiff identified only as a prisoner named Neisef told lawyers he was raped by a female interrogator who left him naked on the floor, saying "It is our job to take your manhood away."

Shereef Akeel, a Detroit lawyer, said the people he helps represent in the case were "subjected to unspeakable crimes."

The lawsuit seeks "substantial" payments for the alleged victims and a ban on future government contracts for Titan Corp. (search) of San Diego and CACI International Inc. (search) of Arlington, Va., whose employees worked as government interrogators and translators.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego, where Titan, the larger of the two defendants, is headquartered. It alleges violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (search), the 1970 law that often is used by government prosecutors to go after organized crime.

Part of the allegation is that Titan and CACI would benefit if interrogations were successful and proved their worth, resulting in more government contracts.

Titan spokesman Wil Williams called the lawsuit "frivolous" and noted that the government has not formally accused any of its employees of abuse.

"Titan never had control over prisoners or how they were treated," Williams said.

CACI said the company "summarily rejects and denies the ill-informed, slanderous and malicious allegations of the lawsuit that attempts to malign the work that we do on behalf of the U.S. government around the world and in Iraq."

The lawsuit also names as defendants Adel L. Nakhla (search), a former Titan employee, and two CACI employees, Steven A. Stefanowicz (search) and John B. Israel (search). All three were implicated in abuses in Iraqi prisons in the Army's investigative report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba.

Michael Ratner, president of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (search), cited a litany of international rules against torture and abuse and said, "Unfortunately, in this case, our administration and a number of contractors are outside the law."

The lawyers acknowledged difficulties tracing eyewitness reports of abuse, because some U.S. soldiers in Iraqi prisons didn't always wear uniforms and some civilian contractors wore military clothing. In some cases, interrogators wore plain T-shirts or slacks with no identifying markings and called each other by nicknames.

Contractors "were very careful in masking their identity," said Susan Burke, a Philadelphia lawyer working on the lawsuit.

Taguba's report for the Army said Stefanowicz "clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse" and recommended that Stefanowicz's security clearance be revoked. Taguba accused Israel of lying when Israel said he never witnessed abusive interrogations. Taguba said Nakhla admitted watching military police officers throw water on prisoners, taunt them about homosexuality and stack prisoners' naked bodies.