FAIRFAX CITY, Va., March 2 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court is to decide whether a former Somali prime minister can be tried in a U.S. court as a war criminal for human rights abuses by military forces.
Five plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit say 74-year-old Mohamed Ali Samantar, who now lives in Fairfax City, Va., was responsible for torture they or family members endured in the 1980s.
Samantar, the plaintiffs say, led a regime that relied on repeated rape, abduction, summary execution and long imprisonment in solitary confinement.
The high court will decide not on the war crime allegations, but whether the plaintiffs, who have no legal recourse in their native Somalia, can sue.
Samantar claims the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, which protects foreign states from lawsuits, extends immunity to official actions of individuals as well.
His accusers disputed that in their suit, first filed in Virginia in 2004 by the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability.
Courts are split on the case. In Alexandria, Va., a federal judge ruled that though the law does not mention individuals, protection for them amounts to the "practical equivalent" of immunity granted to a state.
But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, noting the law did not mention individual immunity, overturned the lower court ruling.
Patricia Millet, the accusers' attorney, said the U.S. government has "expressly determined" it's in the country's interest to deny "foreign officials who engage in torture and killing a safe haven within the United States."
Samantar, in his first interview in years, called the accusations "baseless allegations, with no foundation in truth."
During his regime, at a time when Somalia was racked by civil war, Samantar said: "I served the people rightly and justly. I always respected the rule of law. I am no monster. I am not going to eat anyone."