Iraq's current government cannot be sued for the actions of Saddam Hussein's regime, the Supreme Court said Monday as it threw out lawsuits filed by Americans who were held by the government of the now-deceased dictator.
Foreign nations usually are immune from lawsuits in U.S. courts, but federal law strips that protection from countries that support terrorism. Under Saddam, Iraq was considered a state sponsor of terrorism.
But the Iraqi government says the U.S.-led invasion that deposed Saddam and a federal law enacted in 2003 restored Iraq's immunity to lawsuits in American courts. The Supreme Court agreed.
"Iraq's sovereign immunity was restored when the president exercised his authority to make inapplicable with respect to Iraq any provision of law that applies to countries that have supported terrorism," said Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the opinion for the court.
Americans who were held in Iraq during and following the 1991 Gulf War argued that the law passed by Congress did not give the new regime blanket immunity from lawsuits in U.S. courts even though it removed Iraq's designation as a terrorist state. Americans suing Iraq and alleging abuse and mistreatment include CBS News correspondent Bob Simon, who was held for more than a month during the Gulf War.
The Iraqi government also is being sued by the children of Kenneth Beaty, an oil rig supervisor, and by the children of William Barloon, an aircraft maintenance supervisor.
Detained and tortured
In 2001, U.S. District Court Judge Louis Oberdorfer in Washington found the two men had been tortured after being illegally detained in Baghdad. The judge awarded Beaty $4.2 million and awarded Barloon $2.9 million.
The men worked in Kuwait when they were picked up by Iraqi guards in separate border incidents, Beaty in 1993 and Barloon in 1995.
The Iraqi government sentenced Beaty and Barloon to eight years in prison for illegally entering Iraq.
Beaty was released after a ransom of $5 million was paid to the Iraqi government, Beaty's lawyers say. Barloon was released after being held for 126 days.
At issue in the case brought by the men's children is whether a federal law enacted in 2003 and a related presidential order restored immunity from lawsuits to Iraq.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says it does not, that the law applies narrowly to legal restrictions on assistance and money for the new Iraqi government. Chief Justice John Roberts, then an appeals court judge, said in an earlier case that the 2003 law and the president's order were sufficient to block the lawsuits.