Bob Egelko / The San Francisco Chronicle – 2015-01-05 16:25:27
Federal Judge Tosses Iraqi Woman’s Suit against George W. Bush
Bob Egelko / The San Francisco Chronicle
(December 25, 2014) — An Iraqi woman’s suit against former President George W. Bush and other architects of the US war in Iraq has been dismissed by a Bay Area federal judge in a ruling that appears to preclude any such suits by foreigners harmed by America’s wars.
Sundus Saleh, a teacher and jewelry storeowner in Iraq, said she was driven out of her home by US-allied troops after the invasion in 2003 and wound up as a refugee in Jordan, where she has been unable to find steady employment. Her suit, filed last year as a proposed class action on behalf of other displaced Iraqis, accused Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other administration officials of illegally waging an unprovoked war of aggression, in violation of international law.
In a Dec. 19 ruling, US District Judge Jon Tigar of San Francisco said the suit had failed to comply with restrictions imposed by the Federal Tort Claims Act, which governs all private claims of injuries inflicted by federal government employees. That law requires the injured person to file an initial claim with the US government, which Saleh did not do, and, if rejected, to file suit within two years of the alleged wrongdoing.
Saleh couldn’t have met those deadlines, said her lawyer, Inder Comar. And even if she had managed to file an administrative claim and a lawsuit while fleeing and resettling, Comar said, she would have been excluded by Supreme Court rulings barring suits against the United States under the Tort Claims Act for injuries suffered in a foreign country.
The net result, the lawyer said, is that even if a US war violated international law, the nation’s courts have closed their doors to the war’s victims. That, he said, seems to contradict the position the United States took after World War II, when prosecutors from the US and other nations won convictions at Nuremberg against Nazi leaders for waging a war of aggression.
“This was a serious attempt to hold US leaders accountable under laws set down at the Nuremberg trials in 1946,” Comar said. He said Saleh is considering an appeal.
In seeking dismissal of Saleh’s suit, lawyers from President Obama’s Justice Department argued that the case was covered by the Federal Tort Claims Act and its deadlines because Bush and his aides acted within the “scope of their employment” in conducting the war. Saleh, in response, said it wasn’t covered by that law because the president was actually pursuing a private ideological agenda that he had displayed long before taking office in 2001.
Bush administration officials “were not motivated by genuine national security interests” but by “personally held neoconservative convictions which called for American military dominance of the Middle East, and by a religious world-view,” Comar said in court papers.
Regardless, Tigar said, the officials were acting in the scope of their government employment.
“Engaging in war is without doubt among the conduct these defendants were employed to perform,” said the judge, an Obama appointee. He said Saleh had failed to show that Bush and his staff were seeking personal gain from the war or that their actions in planning and carrying out the war “were not motivated, at least in part, by a subjective desire to serve the interests of the United States.”
Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @egelko
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