Americans held by Iraq during the Gulf War in 1991 testified to
Congress Tuesday about their efforts to obtain hundreds of millions of
dollars in compensation and punitive damages from the Iraqi
government. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.
legal history may be complex, but the underlying emotions are not.
Americans subjected to torture and other mistreatment while in the
hands of the Saddam Hussein regime want to be compensated for their
George Charchalis, who is retired from the U.S. Navy, was in Kuwait at the time of Iraq's invasion in 1990.
I had feared most came to pass. The Iraqi soldiers kicked down the door
and struck me in the face with a rifle butt, knocking me down to the
ground and kicking me in the stomach," he said.
He is among 17
Americans held by Iraq during the Gulf War who have sought compensation
from the present-day government in Baghdad.
Under a more than
decade-old law, foreign nations on a U.S. list of state sponsors of
terrorism, as Iraq used to be, are liable for damages for torture or
the killing or hostage taking of U.S. citizens. And international law
holds that successor regimes can be held liable.
Ambassador John Norton Moore was co-counsel in a 2002 case against Iraq in which a U.S. judge awarded former POWs $959 million.
word of the Congress and the nation is clear," he said. "Those who
torture Americans will be held accountable. There is no if, and or but
attached to those pledges."
But after the U.S. invaded Iraq,
efforts to collect from frozen Iraqi assets were blocked by the Bush
administration, which cited a need to protect Iraqi reconstruction
In a 2005 ruling, the Supreme Court declined to accept
an appeal from the group, effectively overturning the nearly
billion-dollar federal court award.
A provision in defense
legislation approved by Congress in 2007 would have allowed the lawsuit
to proceed. But President Bush, again citing threats to Iraqi
reconstruction funds, used a procedural tactic to veto the measure.
Democratic Representative Steve Cohen chaired the House Judiciary Committee hearing.
president has not satisfactorily explained why these fundamental
[legal] principles should be disregarded here, nor has he
satisfactorily explained why all of Iraq's assets must be shielded,
even while it is reaping billions upon billions of dollars from its oil
fields, and while it is readily paying off pre-war commercial debts to
foreign corporations totaling $4.4 million," he said.
U.S. Navy Captain Larry Slade was among the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit.
fellow POWs and I, who brought this historic case, were tortured by
Iraq through brutal beatings, starvation, electric shock, whipping,
burning, mock executions, threatened dismemberment, threats to our
families, subjection to bombing, and breaking of bones and eardrums,"
Slade says former POW claims are also supported by
unanimous congressional resolutions condemning Iraqi abuses and Saddam
Hussein's use of detainees as human shields, as well as a February 2002
executive order by President Bush holding states, organizations and
individuals responsible for treating U.S. personnel humanely.
courageous POWs and their family members, whom the nation owes a debt
of gratitude, have struggled now for six years in their efforts to hold
their torturers accountable, said Ambassador John Morton Moore. "Surely
six years in their efforts to support the rule of law, as volunteers
for their country, is enough.
Continuing to block compensation
efforts, adds Moore, means future generations of American POW's will
face a greater likelihood of being tortured.
Wolf asserts the Bush administration has blocked compensation to
prevent the issue from harming bilateral negotiations with Iraq over
two agreements on future relations, and the status of U.S. forces.
irony could not be greater," he said. "Having once had their physical
selves held hostage by the Iraqi government to extort concessions from
the United States, Iraq's former American victims are now having their
claims held hostage by their own government so that it can extract
concessions from Iraq."
Wolf accuses the State Department of, in his words, looking for a convenient opportunity to abandon (the claims) forever.
Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley says there could be some hope in a legal compromise he has proposed.
alternative that I am proposing would eliminate any fears of a flood of
expensive lawsuits, because it specifies the plaintiffs against Iraq,
and offers relative modest amounts [despite] the judgment that is
already on the books for the POW-torture victims," he said. "The total
amount that Iraq would have to pay under this compromise agreement
would be approximately $415 million."
Braley says this contrasts
with billions of dollars the U.S. is spending in Iraq, adding that his
proposal would permit former POW's to be compensated, while eliminating
Iraqi government concerns.
At the same time, legislation the
lawmaker is sponsoring would remove authority President Bush received
from Congress under which he could waive provisions regarding Iraq on
the basis of national security.