April 18, 2012

A torture victim cannot sue the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991.

Says a unanimous Supreme Court, in an opinion (PDF) written by Justice Sotomayor. Sotomayor — why, by the way was nominated by a President who said was looking for a Justice with "empathy" — explained that the statute created a claim against "individuals," and that word only includes natural human beings and not artificial entities.
And no one, we hazard to guess, refers in normal parlance to an organization as an “individual.”...

Congress does not, in the ordinary course, employ the word any differently. The Dictionary Act instructs that “[i]n determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise . . . the wor[d] ‘person’ . . . include[s] corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.” 1 U. S. C. §1 (emphasis added). With the phrase “as well as,” the definition marks “individual” as distinct from the list of artificial entities that precedes it.
In law, it's the norm to see an organization as a "person," but not as an "individual."

ADDED: My post title, picking up language in the case syllabus, says "Palestinian Liberation Organization" when the real name of the defendant is "Palestine Liberation Organization." The same error appears in Sotormayor's opinion for the majority and Breyer's concurring opinion.

27 comments:

Pastafarian said...

It's interesting that such an empathetic person would be such a stickler for language, in this one instance.

I wonder why they wrote this law up this way. Is it a common thing for torture victims to know the name of their torturer? "Hi, I'm Phil Johnson, and I'll be pulling out your fingernails with rusty pliers this morning. Here's my card."

Ken said...

Headline:

Wise Latina Women Denies Tortue Victim the Right to Confront Torturers

Robert Cook said...

I guess they sorta hafta come to this finding in order to protect the United States from being sued by our own torture victims.

Carnifex said...

Wise Latina at work, DO NOT DISTURB!

Richard Dolan said...

In its way, an ordinary instance of textualist analysis, and not a particularly important one since Congress can change it tomorrow.

What's significant about these cases is generally what the Court chooses not to discuss. Even taking the decision on its own terms, you can see how the Court could have justified the opposite result. So the real issue is why in this case the term "individual" gets a narrow reading whereas in another case, a similar term will be read more broadly.

I think it's the Court's discomfort with permitting US courts to become embroiled in disputes having little or nothing to do with the US or its interests. After oral argument in a case from the 2d Circuit raising that issue directly last month, the Court restored the case for reargument and directed the parties to file supplemental briefs anaylysing it.

Textualism is a funny thing -- what matters in these decisions is often what isn't there to see. It turns out that every text has more than one subtext.

Pastafarian said...

But Robert, US citizens have been sued under this act by people who claim to have been tortured by them.

So it doesn't really protect the US, does it? You're saying that the people who wrote this act thought: It's OK if some federal employees can get sued under this act, just so they can't go directly after the government?

That's stupid. Why would the legislators care whether the US government would pick up the tab on a suit, versus a US government employee?

Carnifex said...

@ Robert Cook

Yes. Our torture victims... like at Abu Ghrab, where they were forced to do college rush pranks like getting in a pile naked, or wearing the latest S&M fashion from San Francisco.

Or the ones forced to listen to really bad music? Loud. I like the one where the "torturer" wasn't allowed to bring a catepiller into the cell(true story), it was deemed too harsh, even though hey had to tell the victim it was a harmless catepiller.

Oh! You the mean ones water boarded, don't you? Like we do to train our soldiers. Maybe our soldiers should sue too? Or maybe, you could grow a pair and admit that if you plan to blow up innocent people, you shouldn't bitch when those people take exception to your plans!

As Monty Python would say "No one can withstand the comfy chair!"

MikeR said...

Could someone explain to me why you need the Torture Act to allow you to sue someone who tortured you? Isn't torture, you know, a tort? [For short]

cubanbob said...

Richard Dolan said...

I suspect that their must be more than a bit of State Dept. meddling in briefs. Suppose the act were ruled that individuals could so the PA in a US court. And the PA declines to offer a defense resulting in a default judgment. The plaintiff might then very well try to enforce the judgment against entities in the US that raise funds for the PA or sue the US government to divert aid money that was granted the PA. Unless the PA is recognized a sovereign state by the US I fail to see the need to treat the PA as a nation state but instead treat them for what they are, a terrorist organization.

Hopefully the next republican congress can alter the legislation to extend liability to the PA.

Hagar said...

It is about suing a foreign government (which the PLA/PLO sort of is, even if there is no such place as Palestine and no such people as Palestinians) in U.S. courts.

In order to make any sense the PLA must have assets in the U.S., which it does, but then so does Israel, and you can see where this is going. Un-ending suits and counter-suits about events in foreign places with no way to collect and verify evidence. Congress just did not think it through before they passed this "feel good" legislation, and the DoJ is trying to walk it back.

Hagar said...

PA not PLA!

cubanbob said...

Hagar there is no thing as a sort of nation state. It either is or it isn't. Nation states have immunity under sovereign immunity. The PA isn't a nation state. On the other hand lefties in Europe routinely try to sue Israel in their courts.

Robert Cook said...

Carnifex,

I see you do listen to your Rush Limbaugh braying points.

cubanbob said...

Robert Cook said...
I guess they sorta hafta come to this finding in order to protect the United States from being sued by our own torture victims.

4/18/12 10:46 AM

Well Bob the problem with international law is that it isn't really law. It's only conventions upheld by sovereigns for their purposes and benefits. Courts everywhere in the world are only able to enforce their rulings if the sovereigns deem to do so since they have the monopoly of force on their soil. And there is nothing that prevents congress from exempting the US from such suits. So if some lefties want to target a US national for such a thing, say like arresting President Bush or VP Cheney while abroad, a simple note from the the State Dept. to the nation whose court tried to do such thing, the note being that the US would consider that an act of war the problem instantly resolves itself in favor of the US. It's one of the perks of being a super power.

That's the thing about sovereign immunity, you can only sue the sovereign to the extent, if any, it allows itself to be sued.

Alex said...

Only in the twisted world view is a naked pyramid equivalent to hacking of limbs.

Alex said...

Cook - the problem is you fail to see common sense. The average Joe or Jane does not see a moral equivalence between Abu Ghahib and the real torture that goes on in Arab lands.

Freder Frederson said...

The average Joe or Jane does not see a moral equivalence between Abu Ghahib and the real torture that goes on in Arab lands.

It is so sad that the average Joe or Jane (and that includes average Jane Ann Althouse) are so ill-informed. You do realize that at least one person was tortured to death by CIA contractors at Abu Gharaib, don't you?

Bet I guess killing someone during interrogation doesn't constitute torture in your book.

Alex said...

Frederer - WOW one whole person was tortured to death by the CIA in a decade of being there, whereas countless Arabs are tortured to death every day by their own regimes. Once again no moral equivalence!

Pettifogger said...

As Ann Althouse said, the meaning of "individual" is well understood in the law. Blame Congress, which chose that word, knowing full well what it meant. Sotomayor could not have ruled otherwise without abasing the language used in the law. and if we cannot have confidence in the meaning of the words we use, we can do nothing.

Robert Cook said...

"The average Joe or Jane does not see a moral equivalence between Abu Ghahib...."

If the average Joe or Jane thinks the only torture we have inflicted (or are inflicting) on bound prisoners is what took place at Abu Ghraib--of which we have been informed of only the least awful, as even Don Rumsfeld acknowledged--then the average Joe or Jane is a willfully ignorant dope.

Moreover, those who wish to equivocate, to say, "Well, such and such an abuse isn't quite as egregious as such and such acts that our 'bad' enemies inflict on their victims," simply fail to obscure the fact that "torture" does not only mean or is not only limited to the absolute worst and most horrifying acts humans can and have inflicted on each other, but covers a wide range of abuses.

The greatest horror and evil in torture is in one's very willingness to authorize it, to approve of it, to engage in it, or to make excuses for it. The actual methods of torture--from relatively mild up to that resulting in death or mutilation--follow automatically from the decision to countenance it at all, in any circumstance, in any degree.

Freder Frederson said...

WOW one whole person was tortured to death by the CIA in a decade of being there, whereas countless Arabs are tortured to death every day by their own regimes.

Actually, according to the U.S. military, over 100 detainees died while in military custody. The military itself admits that it suspected at least 26 of those deaths were the result of criminal homicide. The CIA has been less forthcoming about its detainees.

And when does the homicide of detainees under our care become a moral dilemma? How many free tortures a year is the government allowed?

traditionalguy said...

Sotomayor follows the law again. That is wise of her.

Hagar said...

cubanbob,
The PA is "sort of" a nation state because it is an entity created by the Israeli government with the intent of controlling Palestinian nationalism and keeping it subservient to the Israeli interest.

cubanbob said...

Hagar said...
cubanbob,
The PA is "sort of" a nation state because it is an entity created by the Israeli government with the intent of controlling Palestinian nationalism and keeping it subservient to the Israeli interest.

4/18/12 3:08 PM

And this a problem for who besides the Palestinians? Jordan effed up when it attacked Israel in 67. That is what happens when you lose a war. Ask the Germans whatever happened to Koenigsberg. Or Finland to it's lost territories. I'm sure the Kurds can make a better case for statehood than the Palestinians, being a separate ethnicity to the Arabs, with their own language and history that predates the 1960's. Anyway the point being whatever the PA is, it isn't a nation state today. Perhaps someday, but not today.

Carnifex said...

@ Robert Cook

No I have listened to Rush a time or two, but usually too busy. I last listened ohh about 5 minutes last week while driving with the ol' lady.

Surprisingly, Conservatives actually think for themselves. I respect your opinion because you seem to be one of the few liberals who think for themselves, please do me the same courtesy.

Freder Frederson said...

You the mean ones water boarded, don't you? Like we do to train our soldiers.

You mean like we train our soldiers to resist torture?

Under your logic, If I see you on the street I can punch you in the face and continue to beat you until you are unconscious. After all, boxing is a legal sport.

And for not listening to Rush, you sure have his talking points down pat.

Carnifex said...

@Freddie

I suggest you just go ahead and try that. You'd be surprised what an old man can learn about dirty fighting in a life time. The thing is , I'd have to kill you quick, because I'm old and slow now.(word of warning, I cheat)

And yes, like we do our soldiers. I notice that you snark but beyond that you have no point. Not at all like the top of your head. If it's training for soldiers, then it must be tremendously torturous, physically maiming, and nearly always fatal. Or maybe it's "training". As in, it makes you stronger.

By your definition, pilates is a torture, not a "training " method used to tone up Hollywood House Wifes asses.