I don't know if I agree with this move, but this sure seems like something that would be very easy to spin against the Bush administration. Reprinted here from the New York Times
U.S. Fights Verdict Backing Ex-P.O.W.'s By ADAM LIPTAK
When 21 freed American P.O.W.'s returned home from the Persian Gulf war in March 1991, Dick Cheney, then secretary of defense, welcomed them at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.
"Every man and woman who cares for freedom," Mr. Cheney said, "owes you a very special measure of gratitude."
Of those 21 former prisoners of war, 17, who had been tortured by their Iraqi captors, would like something more tangible. This month they won a court award of almost $1 billion against Iraq, and a federal law says they may be paid from frozen Iraqi funds.
The Bush administration has expressed sympathy for the plaintiffs over what they endured but is fighting them about the money, saying it is urgently needed to rebuild Iraq.
But Richard W. Roberts, a federal district judge in Washington, has ordered the government to keep enough Iraqi money in the United States to satisfy $653 million of the award, the amount of the compensatory but not the punitive damages he ordered paid to the former prisoners.
The Iraqi government never responded to the suit, which was filed in April 2002, and Judge Roberts acted after hearing evidence only from the plaintiffs. He set out his findings, in harrowing detail, in a 118-page decision.
The judge is to hear government arguments today asking him to rescind his order setting aside the $653 million and to cancel the award itself. The government cites "foreign policy interests in ensuring a safe and successful transition in Iraq."
Taylor Griffin, a Treasury spokesman, said that in March, President Bush ordered the seizure of about $1.7 billion of Iraqi money, already frozen. Mr. Griffin added that under a provision of a second federal law, the U.S.A. Patriot Act, that money became government property unavailable to the former prisoners. The parties disagree on how the two laws should be interpreted.
Mr. Griffin said the government had been periodically transferring those assets to Iraq, in cash, to pay Iraqi pensioners and civil servants, to provide working capital for Iraqi ministries and to buy equipment for the Iraqi police.
One lawyer for the former prisoners, Stephen A. Fennell, said changing conditions in Iraq should be of no consequence. Under the Geneva Convention, he said, "these types of liabilities run with the states, not the governments."
John Choon Yoo, who until recently was a Justice Department lawyer specializing in international issues, said the prisoners' suit was dangerous. "I terrifically sympathize with their personal situation and what they went through," he said, "but the use of the courts and damages remedies interferes with the president's conduct of foreign policy."
One plaintiff, Lt. Col. Richard Dale Storr, now with the Washington Air National Guard, said the administration's position troubled him. Colonel Storr endured beatings in Iraq that broke his nose, dislocated his shoulder and burst his left eardrum.
"It's sending a conflicting message to our troops," he said of the administration's recent court filings. "Congress and the judicial branch say, `Let's protect our guys to the maximum extent possible,' " while the executive branch is "saying the opposite."
"Disappointing," he added, "would be a good way to put it."