The 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, the high court ruled Wednesday, authorizes civil lawsuits against an individual responsible for torture or extrajudicial killings but not against an organization. The family also had sought damages from the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
The ruling came in the case of Azzam Rahim, a U.S. citizen of Palestinian heritage who was allegedly arrested by Palestinian intelligence officers in 1995, imprisoned, tortured and killed.
A federal court in the District Court in the District of Columbia dismissed the suit, ruling the anti-torture act applied to individuals responsible for Rahim's alleged torture and death, but not organizations, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the decision.
In its 11-page ruling, written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court said: "The Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 … authorizes a cause of action against '[an] individual' for acts of torture and extrajudicial killing committed under authority or color of law of any foreign nation. We hold that the term 'individual' as used in the Act encompasses only natural persons. Consequently, the Act does not impose liability against organizations."