Former POWs tortured in Iraq battle U.S. to collect awards

By Otto Kreisher

April 8, 2005

WASHINGTON – Marine Corps pilot Cliff Acree was tortured while being held as a prisoner of war in Iraq in 1991 during the first Persian Gulf War.

Now, the retired colonel and 16 other former prisoners find themselves in what one called the unimaginable position of fighting their own government in an effort to obtain the compensation from Iraq that a federal court awarded them for their brutal treatment.

Acree, an Oceanside resident, joined retired Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Tice, another former POW, and their lawyers yesterday in asking the Bush administration to stop opposing their effort to receive a judgment for nearly $1 billion against the regime of Saddam Hussein that the former POWs and 37 family members won in July 2003.

The former prisoners and their families had filed their claim for compensation using the provisions of a 1996 federal anti-terrorism law. Although they had kept the government fully informed of their legal action, one of their attorneys said, the administration offered no opposition until they won their case.

The administration then appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington overturned the judgment. The POWs are asking the Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court ruling.

The administration has argued that the money the former prisoners would receive is needed to help rebuild Iraq and bolster the new government.

Acree, as commander of a Marine observation squadron, was shot down over Iraq and captured the second day of Operation Desert Storm when his aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile.

"For the next 48 days of my captivity, I experienced torture, starvation, mock executions and confinement in a freezing, filthy environment," Acree said. He also suffered "violent, prolonged and frequent beatings, to the point of being beaten into unconsciousness," he said.

Acree said he and his fellow POWs filed the lawsuit under provisions of U.S. law and the international Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners of war "that allowed us to hold accountable a nation that had tortured us."

Tice, a former Air Force fighter pilot, recalled that when he was a prisoner in Baghdad, "shivering, starving and just trying to survive for the next 15 minutes ... I never, ever imagined, in my wildest dreams, that I would be petitioning the Supreme Court to help me fight my own country for the rule of law."

John Norton Moore, one of the POW's attorneys, said the money to pay the judgment could come from $1.7 billion in assets the United States seized from the former Hussein regime after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

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