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United States: U.S. Courts Lack Jurisdiction over Claims Against Iraq Arising During Saddam Hussein Regime

(June 15, 2009) On June 8, 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that the Government of Iraq enjoys sovereign immunity from claims for torture committed against U.S. citizens during the Saddam Hussein era.

The lawsuits at issue involved several plaintiffs' claims of torture and other mistreatment by the Republic of Iraq during the 1990s. Plaintiffs prevailed against Iraq at the district court level. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed. The D.C. Circuit ruled that a May 2003 waiver by then President George W. Bush to the “state sponsors of terrorism” exception to the general rule of sovereign immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act applied prospectively only. The Supreme Court granted Iraq's petition for certiorari.

The Supreme Court reversed the D.C. Circuit, ruling that President Bush's May 2003 waiver was meant to restore Iraq's sovereign immunity both prospectively and retrospectively. It therefore ruled that the courts of the United States lack jurisdiction over the claims against Iraq for causes of action arising during the Saddam Hussein era. (Republic of Iraq v. Beaty, No. 07-1090 (June 8, 2009), available at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/07-1090.pdf.)