“I was stunned, shocked, outraged, and ashamed when I found out why the president vetoed the bill,” Braley said at the National Press Club last week. “What is more disturbing is the fact that this administration cannot justify why these soldiers should receive the judgment they so richly deserve and have faced roadblocks every step of the way. These POWs waited years and years for justice only to see this justice stolen by the Bush administration.”
In 2002, 17 American ex-prisoners of war who were brutally tortured in Iraq during the first Persian Gulf War sued Saddam Hussein’s regime. The veterans eventually won a judgment against Hussein. But shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration stepped in and had the judgment overturned.
According to a Dec. 28 report in Congressional Quarterly, Bush issued his veto after lawyers for the Iraqi government threatened to withdraw $25 billion worth of assets from U.S. banks if the provision was allowed to become law.
The American POWs were granted damages by a U.S. federal district court in July 2003. The court awarded $959 million in compensatory and punitive damages to the 17 POWs — some of whom remain on active duty today and are serving in Iraq.
But earlier that year, after signing a bill that allowed Americans to collect court-ordered damages from the frozen assets of terrorist states — a list that included Iraq at that time — Bush had confiscated what was then $1.7 billion in Iraqi assets held in private banks. He allowed the payment of two judgments, including one for so-called “human shield” hostages held by Iraq in 1990, but none for the Americans taken prisoner in the 1991 Gulf War.
Moreover, after digging a little deeper, Braley found something even more disturbing regarding the president’s rationale for the veto. “The president chose to respect corporate interests over human interests and corporate rights over human rights,” Braley said at the Press Club. “This is something we have seen from this administration in the past in unrelated matters.”
"One of the things this administration doesn’t like to tell you is that while they have been denying these brave prisoners of war their just compensation, they have been quietly working to settle Gulf War commercial debt with foreign corporations like Mitsubishi from Japan,” Braley said. “They have done this without taking a single penny from the war effort in Iraq.”
Despite bipartisan support for the provision, Congress agreed to strip the language from the bill to ensure its passage into law, granting Iraq immunity from such claims. Braley also told the audience at the Press Club that he was perturbed that there was no response from congressional leadership and he vowed to fight for the POWs, regardless of the bill’s outcome. The revised Defense Act was signed into law by the President this week.
Staying true to his word, Braley introduced a bill that aimed to correct a flawed Defense Department Authorization Act (HR 4986) by introducing a bill to restore a provision allowing American veterans and victims of torture to pursue legal claims against their torturers.
Braley’s bill, the Justice for Victims of Torture and Terrorism Act, would effectively restore the provision and allow American torture victims to pursue legal action against state sponsors of terrorism.
“American veterans tortured as prisoners of war don’t deserve to be left behind by a presidential policy that keeps them from seeking justice,” Braley said in a recent statement. “We need to hold countries accountable for torturing American troops so it never happens again. And we need to get our priorities straight. Protecting American veterans and POWs should come before protecting Saddam Hussein’s assets.
“Congress needs to act quickly to correct the flawed Defense Authorization Act by passing this bill. I’m confident that there is strong bipartisan support in the House to right this wrong and send a message to the president that American soldiers deserve the right to bring torturers to justice.”