At issue is not whether Samantar is responsible for torture; at issue is whether he was acting in an official government capacity as the agent of a foreign government, and is thus entitled to the same immunity his country has against being sued in a United States court.
WASHINGTON — Supreme Court justices on Wednesday questioned whether a former prime minister of Somalia can be sued in U.S. courts over claims that he oversaw killings and torture in his home country.
At issue is whether foreign officials, not just countries and their agencies, receive immunity in federal court from being sued for their actions while in power.
Mohamed Ali Samantar was defense minister and prime minister of Somalia in the 1980s and early 1990s under dictator Siad Barre. He now lives in Virginia and is being sued by victims who say he was responsible for killings, rapes and torture, including waterboarding.
The court's decision could have broad foreign policy implications. Allowing lawsuits against former foreign officials living in the United States could increase the likelihood that U.S. officials would be sued in overseas courts. An increase in the number of U.S. lawsuits dealing with past actions in foreign countries could also affect the United States' current ties with those countries.
But a decision granting immunity could prevent torture victims from getting their day in U.S. courts when their oppressors have emigrated to the United States, advocates said.
Clearly, a decision allowing Samantar to be sued by his victims would be viewed with trepidation by those who have authorized torture by United States agencies. It's pretty unlikely that a "Marc Thiessen defense" which claimed that waterboarding isn't torture and that the victims of it thank their tormentors would fly in any foreign courts.