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Suing the Aiders and Abettors of Torture: Reviving the Torture Victim Protection Act

By Ryan Plasencia. Full Text. 

While universally condemned by the international community, state-sponsored torture and extrajudicial killing are still pervasive practices around the globe. This Note examines a specific form of state-sponsored torture and killing—those acts that are facilitated or aided by multinational corporations with profit motives.

In 1992, the United States enacted the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The TVPA created a civil cause of action for victims of foreign torture. In signing the Act, President Bush said, “The United States must continue its vigorous efforts to bring the practice of torture and other gross abuses of human rights to an end wherever they occur.” However, today the TVPA is a shell of its original form. In 2012 the Supreme Court held in Mohamed v. Palestinian Authority that the TVPA only provides liability for the “natural persons” involved in an act of torture or killing. In other words, plaintiffs can only bring suits alleging direct liability against those who actually committed their torture, rather than a corporation (or other entity) that may have directed, facilitated, or benefited from it.

The Court’s narrow reading of the TVPA created a situation where there are often many more culpable parties to an act of torture than a victim can reach in civil suit. To address this problem, this Note advocates for the use of aiding and abetting liability against corporate executives and employees who personally direct, facilitate, or aid in these acts. Federal courts are split on whether or not such liability properly attaches through the TVPA. Although not all incidents of torture and extrajudicial killing have a corporate component, many do, and this Note details examples where aiding and abetting liability against corporate executives may have been especially effective. The Note argues that the TVPA’s legislative history, Supreme Court precedent, and general principles of American law suggest that aiding and abetting liability properly attaches via the TVPA, and that such liability does not infringe on the Supreme Court’s decision in Mohamed.