A civil trial against a US defense contractor accused of engaging in and directing abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq began Monday in Alexandria, Virginia, two decades after revelations of horrific torture first surfaced.

The trial started with testimony from one of the Iraqi men, who said he was beaten, interrogated and left bound and naked for hours on end at the infamous site. The proceeding marks the first time these Abu Ghraib survivors are able to bring their claims of torture to a US jury.

“I wished to die,” Salah Al-Ejaili, one of the three plaintiffs in the case, told the jury Monday, recounting the “fear and terror” he felt during the 40 days he was held in Abu Ghraib.

Al-Ejaili and two other Iraqi men are suing military contract company CACI, who they say was in charge of the interrogations at Abu Ghraib, a US Army detention center for captured Iraqis. The discovery of graphic photos depicting guards abusing detainees sparked global outrage in 2004.

CACI has denied wrongdoing.

Al-Ejaili, a freelance journalist who now lives in Sweden after seeking asylum there, detailed how individuals at the prison tortured him before interrogation sessions in November and December 2003.

The people at the prison, who Al-Ejaili described as wearing military and civilian clothing, would place a black bag over his head, force him to strip naked and bound his hands to a wall for long stretches in a cold, empty room.

He detailed the humiliation, beatings and psychological torture he endured under the blinding lights and loud music of the prison, where sleep was nearly impossible.

At one point during his detainment and torture, Al-Ejaili testified that he vomited black bile, with his stomach feeling as if it “wanted to come out.” A member of the US military ordered him to mop up the vomit with his own red prison uniform, he said.

“We would hear the screams of the detainees,” during interrogation sessions, Al-Ejaili testified.

During opening statements, John O’Connor, an attorney for CACI, placed the blame for the torture at Abu Ghraib on “a handful of bad apples” who were US military police.

Those “sadistic” individuals, O’Connor said, have already been tried and – in some cases – sentenced to prison after being court-martialed.

“There’s no question that abuse happened,” O’Connor said, adding that there was no evidence CACI employees harmed the three plaintiffs and that the US military was responsible for the management of the prison, not CACI.

CACI was hired by the US military because they were “dreadfully short” on interrogators O’Connor said, telling the jury that CACI was a “respectable company.”

Baher Azmy, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said CACI interrogators instructed and participated in the abuse and that while the jury could not clean “the stain Abu Ghraib” has left on the country, they could provide some “justice.”

The civil trial is expected to last two weeks and is set to feature testimony – over video conference – from the other two plaintiffs who still live in Iraq, as well as members of the US military convicted for their role in the abuse at Abu Ghraib.

US District Judge Leonie Brinkema is presiding over the case.

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