The case of Al-Quraiski v. Nakhla, 2010 WL 3001986, July 29, 2010, is a sobering opinion by a Maryland federal District Court discussing government contractor civil liability for conduct while performing as a contractor in support of military operations. The extensive use of government contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan has raised questions about when contractors, often working side-by-side with the military, can be held civilly liable for their actions. This decision discusses the development of case law surrounding the various theories of liability and denies the defendants’ motions to dismiss the case.

In this case, Iraqi citizens who were detained in military prisons sued a translator employed by a government contractor, and also sued the government contractor, claiming that they were tortured. The case is currently pending.

There were twenty counts in the complaint, including torture, war crimes, conspiracy, assault, and negligent hiring counts. The claims were brought under the Alien Tort Statute, Iraqi state law claims, and negligence tort theories. The defendants (the translator and the government contractor providing civilian translation services to the military) sought to have the case dismissed, using a variety of legal theories.

Defendants claimed immunity under the laws of war, and claimed that the “political question doctrine” bars the suit (official policies and directives established by the executive branch are generally non-reviewable by the judiciary). They also claimed derivative sovereign immunity as a government contractor. They claimed that the Alien Tort Statute doesn’t apply since they did not violate the law of nations. They argued that the Iraqi state law claims fail because the law of Iraq applies giving them immunity.

This opinion examines each of the defenses raised by defendants in their motion to dismiss the case, and rejects them one by one. This developing body of law should be of great interest to government contractors and their employees who provide contract services in a war zone.

For your government contract law questions, contact attorney Karen S. Hindson.