WASHINGTON: For only the second time ever an American has been convicted of torture in US court — for brutal treatment of an employee at a weapons factory in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Justice Department announced Monday.
Ross Roggio, 54, faces possible life in prison after he was found guilty of torture and other crimes in federal court in Pennsylvania on Friday.
In 2015 Roggio was developing a factory to produce M-4 automatic assault rifles in the Kurdistan region of Iraq using parts illegally exported from the United States, the department said in a statement.
At the time one of his employees, an Estonian man, raised questions about the project.
To prevent the man from interfering, the indictment said, Roggio arranged for Kurdish soldiers to kidnap him.
The man was detained at a Kurdish military camp for 39 days during which Roggio allegedly led multiple interrogation and torture sessions, ordering the soldiers to beat him with hoses, use a bag to suffocate him, and threaten to cut off his fingers using a cutting tool.
“On at least one occasion, Roggio wrapped his belt around the victim’s neck, yanked the victim off the ground, and suspended him in the air, causing the victim to lose consciousness,” the department said.
Roggio and his company were charged in 2018 with 37 counts of illegally exporting firearms parts and tools for the project.
Last year the Justice Department added the torture charges to the case, based on a 1994 law on torture.
On Friday Roggio was convicted of torture, conspiracy, illegal weapons exports, money laundering, smuggling and other charges.
Only one other American has been prosecuted under the 1994 statute.
In 2009 a US court sentenced US citizen Charles “Chuckie” Taylor, the son of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, to 97 years in prison for acts of torture between 1999 and 2003 in the West African country.
“Today’s milestone conviction is the result of the extraordinary courage of the victim, who came forward after the defendant inflicted unspeakable pain on him for more than a month,” said FBI Assistant Director Luis Quesada.
“Torture is among the most heinous crimes the FBI investigates, and together with our partners at the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center, we will relentlessly pursue justice,” Quesada said.