A US defence contractor whose subsidiary was accused of conspiring to torture detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has paid $5.28m to 71 former inmates held there between 2003 and 2007.
Tuesday’s settlement marks the first successful effort by lawyers for former prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other US-run detention centres to collect money from a US defence contractor in lawsuits alleging torture.
Another contractor, CACI, is expected to go to trial over similar allegations this summer.
The payments were disclosed in a document that Engility Holdings Inc filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission two months ago but which has gone essentially unnoticed.
On Tuesday, a lawyer for the ex-detainees, Baher Azmy, said that each of the 71 Iraqis received a portion of the settlement.
Azmy declined to say how the money was distributed among them. He said there was an agreement to keep details of the settlement confidential.
“Private military contractors played a serious but often under-reported role in the worst abuses at Abu Ghraib,” said Azmy, the legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“We are pleased that this settlement provides some accountability for one of those contractors and offers some measure of justice for the victims.”
Eric Ruff, Engility's director of corporate communications, said the company does not comment on matters involving litigation.
The ex-detainees filed the lawsuit in federal court in Greenbelt, Maryland, in 2008.
L-3 Services "permitted scores of its employees to participate in torturing and abusing prisoners over an extended period of time throughout Iraq", the lawsuit stated.
The company "willfully failed to report L-3 employees' repeated assaults and other criminal conduct by its employees to the United States or Iraq authorities".
The defendant in the lawsuit, L-3 Services Inc, now an Engility subsidiary, provided translators to the US military in Iraq.
In its defence four years ago against the lawsuit, L-3 Services said lawyers for the Iraqis alleged that there were no facts to support the conspiracy accusation.
Sixty-eight of the Iraqis "do not even attempt to allege the identity of their alleged abuser" and two others provide only “vague assertions”, the company said then.
A military investigation in 2004 identified 44 alleged incidents of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib.
No employee from L-3 Services was charged with a crime in investigations by the US Justice Department. Nor did the US military stop the company from working for the government.
The Abu Ghraib prison scandal erupted during President George W Bush's re-election campaign in 2004 when graphic photographs taken by soldiers at the scene were leaked to the news media.
They showed naked inmates piled on top of each other in a prison cell block, inmates handcuffed to their cell bars and hooded and wired for electric shock, among other shocking scenes.