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Gulf War POWs can't get satisfaction.

Former prisoners of war from tire 1991-1992 Gulf War are awaiting funds from a legal settlement they won against the government of Iraq but have found their efforts blocked--by their own government.

The lawsuit was filed in April 2002 by 17 former POWs and their families under an amendment to the Foreign Services Immunity Act that allows civil suits against foreign countries for illegal war acts, including torture. The plaintiffs argued that as POWs during the Gulf War, they endured extensive physical and mental abuse, and that their experiences led to lifelong physical and emotional disabilities for themselves and their families.

Judge Richard Roberts of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed, citing the "Iraqi captors' extreme and outrageous conduct." He granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs and ordered the Iraqi government to pay both compensatory and punitive damages. (Acree v. Republic of Iraq, 271 F. Supp. 2d 179 (D.D.C. 2003).)

The POWs also sued the Federal Reserve, requesting that the money to pay the judgment come from Iraqi government assets held by the U.S. government, which confiscated and froze the assets in 1990. But the government stepped in to block payments, arguing that the funds were needed for reconstruction efforts in Iraq and that under a law passed last year, it could exempt Iraq from any "provision of law." The court, although calling this position "extreme," ruled in the U.S. government's favor. (Acree v. Snow, 276 F. Supp. 2d 31 (D.D.C. 2003).)

The ruling, affirmed by an appeals court, left the former POWs with a settlement and an award, but no way to collect it. "We have a live judgment," said Stephen Fennell of Washington, D.C., who is lead counsel in the case. "Now the question is, How we are going to pursue our money?"

Fennell noted that the plaintiffs were willing to wait for their payments until reconstruction efforts had ended in Iraq, but that the administration was unwilling to negotiate an agreement.

"We have received not one penny, and not one word. The Bush administration has done absolutely nothing to talk to us about it," he said.

In a press conference, White House spokesman Scott McClellan stated repeatedly that "no amount of money can truly compensate these brave men and women for the suffering that they went through," but also reiterated that the money was needed to help restore order in Iraq. Chief Iraq envoy L. Paul Bremer said in a court filing that the money had already been spent.

The government intervened again in August, when the Justice Department entered a motion to have the entire judgment vacated. The government asserted Iraq's sovereign immunity and argued that "the disposition of this action may 'impair or impede' the ability of the United States to protect its foreign policy interests regarding Iraq." Calling the motion "meritless," Roberts denied it.

The government has appealed. Oral arguments are scheduled ti0r April.

Fennell said this latest action outraged the plaintiffs, who view the lawsuit as a historical record of their contributions, suffering, and history. "They think Saddam is being given a pass on what was done to them." If they lose in court in April, Fennell said, the POWs will try to work out a legislative solution. The case has received support from several members of Congress, particularly Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), George Allen (R-Va.), and Bob Graham (D-Fla.).

A similar suit filed by former civilian hostages--the infamous "human shields" who were also held during the Gulf War--was settled two years ago, and that judgment was paid out of the same now-disputed Iraqi funds, through private bills passed in Congress. (Hill v. Republic of Iraq, 175 F. Supp. 2d 36 (D.D.C. 2001).)

Fennell said the Acree plaintiffs are not as interested in the money as they are in deterring future torture of POWs, and they have pledged to use part of their settlement to fired advocacy organizations for POWs and veterans.

"These people are the true patriots," he said.
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Title Annotation:prisoners of war from Gulf War await funds from settlement won against Iraqi government
Author:Sileo, Carmel
Date:Feb 1, 2004
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