Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Overbrook man sues Saddam regime
Former Iraqi citizen seeks money for his torture
Friday, November 14, 2003
Friday, November 14, 2003 By Sally Kalson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — Saddam Hussein's henchmen once tortured Abdullah Alkhuzai, threw him in prison, executed his brother and made his parents pay for the bullets.
Now Alkhuzai, a legal resident of the United States who lives in Overbook, is suing Saddam's regime in federal court for cruel and inhuman treatment.
The lawsuit was filed in Pittsburgh on Monday. It names as defendants the Republic of Iraq; Saddam; the estates of his sons, Uday and Qusay; Ali Hassan al-Majid (nicknamed "Chemical Ali" for his gassing of Kurdish civilians in 1988); and eight other ex-officials who are thought to be in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Alkhuzai is seeking punitive damages of at least $75,000, the minimum amount required for a civil lawsuit in federal court, to be collected from the defendants' assets if and when they are located. It also seeks interest and attorney's fees.
The lawsuit invokes two causes of action, the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act.
"The purpose of the torture victim law is to discourage terrorist regimes from torturing and killing their own people and prisoners," said Alkhuzai's lawyer, Regis McClelland.
"It makes those governments and individuals responsible for monetary damages to those they hurt in violation of international law.
"Viewers across the United States may have seen Alkhuzai on TV in April. As Saddam's rule crumbled, the networks aired a 12-year-old videotape of Iraqi prisoners being beaten and tortured by his lieutenants. Alkhuzai, a Shiite Muslim who was 20 at the time, was one of the victims. He says it was only a fraction of what he endured under Baathist rule.
The lawsuit claims that Chemical Ali threatened Alkhuzai and his family with execution and torture, subjected him to stabbings and electrocutions, beatings and coercive interrogations, starvation, dehydration, confinement in subhuman conditions and lack of medical care. As a result, the suit says, he suffered permanent injuries.
"He is entitled to be compensated for his pain and suffering," said McClelland. Alkhuzai's wife, Christine, said her husband filed suit because it was the only path of redress open to him.
"He was tortured, his parents were tortured, his brother was killed. This is his only recourse for justice."
McClelland emphasized that Alkhuzai is suing Iraq, not the United States. "Some people have gotten it in their heads that Iraqi assets now belong to the U.S.," McClelland said. "Those assets should be available to pay Saddam's victims."
They might not be.
Seventeen former American prisoners from the first Gulf War who endured months of torture also filed suit against Iraq and won. The court awarded them millions of dollars from Iraq's frozen assets in the United States, but the Bush administration has moved to block the payments, saying the money should be used to rebuild Iraq.
And in September, a federal judge in New York ruled that the families of people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks could not claim any part of about $1.7 billion in frozen Iraqi assets in the U.S. because President Bush signed an executive order in March converting Iraqi assets in the U.S. into property of the United States government.
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