The Longer Arm of the Law

The Bush administration has repeatedly gone out of its way to encourage American firms to conduct business in Iraq. But a Supreme Court decision Tuesday permitting foreigners to use U.S. courts to seek redress for serious human rights violations may have wide-ranging implications for organizations doing business overseas–especially private companies hired to assist the U.S. military.The case decided by the Supreme Court yesterday was an appeal of an earlier decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That ruling permitted a Mexican doctor, Humberto Alvarez-Machain, to sue a Mexican national who assisted the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in kidnapping him from his office in Guadalajara to bring him to trial in the United States on charges relating to the murder of a federal narcotics agent. The case relied on the obscure Alien Tort Statute, which was among the laws enacted by the First Congress in 1789. The oddly-worded statute, which says federal…

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