Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Torturing "Individuals"

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that foreign entities, including terrorist organizations such as the Palestine Liberation Organization, are not included in the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991. The act allows victims of foreign torture to sue the "individuals" responsible for such conduct. A case was brought by the family of Azzam Rahim, an American who was murdered at the hands of the PLO. Plaintiffs argued that since corporations, for example, are generally considered "persons" under the law, organizations could be cast as "individuals." But the Court ruled that Congress' intent was to limit the law's reach to "flesh and blood" individuals, excluding the organizations to which they might belong.

Regardless of your opinion on the substantive matter of suing organizations which routinely torture, the Court was right to defer to Congress rather than sua sponte expanding the act to include entities beyond the act's intended scope. Nevertheless, a ruling is still pending on the Court's interpretation of the 18th century Alien Tort Claims Act, which would effectively grant universal jurisdiction to U.S. federal courts for international law violations affecting anyone, anywhere in the world (regardless of their ties to the U.S.). I previously mentioned the ATCA case here. So the Torture Victim Protection Act may soon become a moot point.
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