WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraqi nationals who claimed U.S. military contractors inflicted physical and emotional abuse on them at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison filed the first of four planned lawsuits Monday in federal court.
Lawyers for the four Iraqis confirmed the first suit was registered at the U.S. District Court in Seattle, Washington, and is to be followed by similar actions in Greenbelt, Maryland; Detroit, Michigan; and Cincinnati, Ohio.
The suits lay out 20 allegations, including torture, sexual assault, battery and war crimes.
Defendants include CACI International (of Arlington, Virginia) and L-3 Services (former Titan Corp., of New York), which provided interrogators and translators at the prison. Three individual contractors also were named in the suit.
Among the former prisoners who allege abuse is Emad al-Janabi. He is not one of the four civilians who are part of the initial series of lawsuits, but his allegations are similar to those of the other Iraqi men.
"They tried to pull my eyes out, the interrogator's fingers were in my eyes putting pressure," he told CNN in May. "I screamed and begged them to stop, but they wouldn't let go."
The 43-year-old said he was later released without charge, and now lives outside the country.
"The worst moment was when they took my clothes," he also told CNN. "And with their hands they would pinch me ... in my private parts. ... They asked me to stand motionless facing the wall and said if I moved I would be shot."
It is not clear whether military contractors paid by the U.S. government can be held liable for financial damages in civilian courts for criminal acts against Iraqis. In military courts, the Pentagon has investigated and prosecuted U.S. soldiers who worked at Abu Ghraib. Several were court-martialed.
In addition to physical abuse, the defendants are also accused of destroying documents, video, and photographs; hiding prisoners from International Red Cross observers; and misleading government and military officials about what was going on inside the facility.
In a written statement, a spokesman for CACI told CNN in May, "From day one, CACI has rejected the outrageous allegations of that lawsuit and will continue to do so. CACI has unequivocally renounced any abuse of detainees in Iraq and has cooperated fully in all government inquiries relating to detainee abuse. ... No CACI employee or former employee has been charged with any misconduct in connection with CACI's interrogation work in Iraq."
Attorney Susan Burke, who is representing the Iraqi plaintiffs, told CNN that private contractors will be held accountable.
"Many of the military participants have been held accountable in courts-martial," she said. "But the corporate employees who were there side by side, working along with them, torturing these poor people, have gotten off scot-free."
There was no immediate response to the filing of the lawsuits from any of the defendants in the case. A trial date has not been set, and the the cases could be settled out of court.
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