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Three Philadelphia lawyers are part of a national team that filed a class-action civil RICO suit Wednesday against two U.S. corporations for allegedly conspiring in the torture, rape, murder and abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Attorneys Susan L. Burke and Joyce S. Meyers of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads and professor Susan Feathers of the University of Pennsylvania Law School are part of an 11-lawyer team that filed the suit in U.S. District Court in San Diego on behalf of more than 1,000 Iraqi detainees. Named as defendants in the suit are Titan Corp. of San Diego and CACI International of Arlington, Va., along with three individuals who work for the companies. The suit alleges that the two companies “engaged in a wide range of heinous and illegal acts in order to demonstrate their abilities to obtain intelligence from detainees, and thereby obtain more contracts from the government,” a statement issued by the plaintiffs’ lawyers says. Joining the Philadelphia lawyers in filing the suit are six lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York — Michael Ratner, Barbara Olshanky, Jeffrey Fogel, Jennifer Green, Judith Brown Chomsky and Jules Lobel — as well as Shereef Hadi Akeel of Melamed Daily & Akeel in Huntington Woods, Mich., and William J. Aceves of San Diego, serving as local counsel. The suit alleges that three individual defendants — Stephen Stephanowicz and John Israel of CACI and Adel Nahkla of Titan — directed and participated in illegal conduct at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Stephanowicz hails from Telford, Pa. All three employees were implicated in abuses in the investigative report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. According to an Associated Press report, a series of government lawyers’ memos — many of them still secret but leaked to the media this week — said the president had the legal authority to allow torture of detainees during interrogations. Administration officials, however, have insisted that such a policy never was adopted. In the RICO suit, plaintiffs’ lawyers contend that CACI and Titan created a “joint enterprise” that became known as “Team Titan.” The suit says the two contractors were hired by the United States to provide interrogation services in Iraq, but that the abusive tactics they used violated both federal and international law. Some of the abuse allegations outlined in the suit are among the cruelest described within the Iraqi prisons. One person, identified in court documents only as a prisoner named Rasheed, told lawyers his tongue was shocked and his toenails pulled out. A second person, identified as a prisoner named Ahmed, said he was forced to watch while his 63-year-old father was tortured to death. The suit seeks payments for the alleged victims and a ban on future government contracts for Titan and CACI. In addition to the RICO claim, the suit cites claims under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Eighth, Fifth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution as well as other U.S. and international laws. Titan spokesman Wil Williams said the company considers the lawsuit “frivolous.” Williams said Titan’s contract with the government involves only “linguistic services” and that Titan was never hired to participate in prisoner interrogations. A recent statement by Titan suggests that the company may be in the midst of negotiating a deal with the U.S. Justice Department to plead guilty to criminal charges, but Williams said the potential charges are “completely unrelated” to the abuse at Abu Ghraib. In a statement released on Monday, Titan announced that its stockholders had overwhelmingly approved a proposed merger with Lockheed Martin Corp. The announcement directly addressed the prospect of possible criminal charges against Titan. “It is a condition to Lockheed Martin’s obligation to complete the merger either that Titan have obtained a written statement from the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice that it considers its investigation of alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act resolved as to Titan and its subsidiaries and does not intend to pursue any claims as to Titan and its subsidiaries in respect of such alleged violations, or that Titan must have entered into a plea agreement with the Department of Justice and completed the sentencing process including entry of the requisite judgment,” the Titan press release says. “Any plea agreement is subject to Lockheed Martin’s prior consent, which may not be unreasonably withheld or delayed,” the statement says. The statement hints that action on the criminal charges could come very soon. “Either party may terminate the merger agreement if the conditions are not satisfied or waived and the merger is not completed by June 25, 2004, provided that if Titan enters into a plea agreement with the United States Department of Justice Criminal Division on or before June 25, 2004, then the parties may terminate the merger agreement if the merger is not completed by the earlier of three business days after a judgment signed by a United States district court judge has been entered or Sept. 24, 2004,” the statement says. Williams said he cannot discuss the criminal investigation, except to say that it relates to “international sales” and that it is “not connected in any way to the situation in Iraq.” The Titan employee named in the suit, Adel Nahkla, has been terminated, Williams said. In the report by Taguba, he said, Nahkla was identified only as a “suspect or witness.” Williams said the company intends to “vigorously defend” itself against the allegations. CACI spokeswoman Jody Brown said the allegations in the federal suit “are irresponsible and outrageous.” “CACI regards these allegations as false and malicious,” Brown said in a written statement. Brown said CACI officials “do not condone, tolerate or endorse any illegal behavior by our employees in any circumstance or at any time,” and that the company “will act forcefully if the evidence shows that any of our employees acted improperly.” But Brown emphasized that “no charges have been filed against any of our employees.” The lawsuit, she said, makes “vicious, blanket accusations that dishonor our people and our company. Our people are doing good work in life-threatening circumstances and we are proud of them. We will defend the reputation of our people and our company and we will fight this false and malicious suit with all of our strength.” But the plaintiffs’ lawyers insisted that the suit has merit and that the two contractors were directly involved in the abuses at Abu Ghraib. “We believe that CACI and Titan engaged in a conspiracy to torture and abuse detainees, and did so to make more money,” said Burke of Montgomery McCracken. “These corporations saw an opportunity to build their businesses by proving they could extract information from detainees in Iraq, by any means necessary. In doing so they not only violated a raft of domestic and international statutes but diminished America’s stature and reputation around the world,” Burke said. Fogel, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “CACI and Titan perpetrated brutal human rights abuses to obtain information, a practice that is not only barbaric but leads to false confessions. The modern way to describe this is outsourcing torture; in the old days we’d call these people mercenaries.” Akeel said, “America is about accountability, and this lawsuit is intended to hold accountable those who are responsible for the wrongs they committed against our clients.”

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