04 Jun 2004 20:55:21 GMT
(Adds plaintiff’s reaction, paragraphs 10-12)
By James Vicini
WASHINGTON, June 4 (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Friday threw out an award of more than $959 million in damages against Iraq, Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Intelligence Service and dismissed a lawsuit by 17 American prisoners of war held during the 1991 Gulf War.
The three-judge panel ruled the plaintiffs, who also included relatives of the prisoners, were not legally entitled to the judgment and that the law at issue does not allow for such lawsuits.
The lawsuit had been filed in April 2002 by 17 of the American troops held captive by Iraq during the war and by 37 of their immediate family members.
They sued Iraq, Saddam and the Iraqi Intelligence Service, claiming personal injuries caused by torture during their captivity and citing the suffering by their family members.
Iraq never responded to the lawsuit. The judgment was awarded by a federal judge in July last year, several months after U.S.-led forces had ousted Saddam.
“We are mindful of the gravity of (the plaintiffs’ allegations) in this case,” Judge Harry Edward wrote in the ruling. That they “endured this suffering while acting in service to their country is all the more sobering,” he added.
He called the circumstances of the case extraordinary in considering what was at stake — a nearly billion-dollar judgment against a foreign government whose stability has become a central preoccupation of U.S. foreign policy.
Edwards said the court cannot ignore the magnitude of the judgment and its impact on the U.S. foreign policy when the law is “indisputably clear” that the plaintiffs “were not legally entitled to this judgment.”
He said the law on foreign sovereign immunity and a previous ruling by the appeals court in another case make clear such lawsuits are not allowed against a foreign state or a leader who acts in an official capacity. He said the lawsuit does not state any claims for which relief may be granted.
Retired Col. David Eberly, one of the plaintiffs, said he was disappointed in the decision.
“This is difficult to take. We served without question and withstood the worst the Iraqi torturers handed out,” Eberly said in a statement.
“On behalf of all those who have suffered, I am disappointed in the legal system of this country. I am also concerned for those who serve our country in the future, as future torturers may now believe that the United States will not stand behind its servicemen and women,” he said.
Saddam was named in the lawsuit as acting in his official capacity as Iraqi president, rather than in a personal capacity for which he could be sued.
The federal judge who awarded the damages later sided with the U.S. government in ruling that seized Iraqi assets could not be used to compensate the plaintiffs. (Additional reporting by Deborah Zabarenko)