Court: Iraq not responsible for Saddam

June 8, 2009 7:39:04 AM PDT
The Supreme Court on Monday ruled unanimously that the current Iraqi government cannot be held responsible in U.S. courts for the acts of Saddam Hussein's regime. 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 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 the 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 include CBS News correspondent Bob Simon, who was held for more than a month during the Gulf War in 1991.

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.

In 2001, U.S. District Court Judge Louis Oberdorfer in Washington, D.C., found the two men had been tortured after being illegally detained in Baghdad. The judge awarded Beaty, of Mustang, Okla., $4.2 million, and awarded Barloon, of Jacksonville, Fla., $2.9 million.

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 for the District of Columbia 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.

The consolidated cases are Iraq v. Beaty, 07-1090, and Iraq v. Simon, 08-539.

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