Kurdish forces involved in landmark US torture case

In a landmark ruling on Monday, the Justice Department announced the conviction of an American for torture in a US court, marking only the second time a US citizen has been convicted of the offence.

The defendant, Ross Roggio, 54, was accused of the brutal treatment of an employee at a weapons factory in Iraqi Kurdistan. Peshmerga forces and officials from the Sulaymaniyah region were also implicated in the case, according to court documents.

Roggio now potentially faces a life sentence after being convicted of torture and numerous other crimes in a federal court in Pennsylvania on Friday. His sentencing is scheduled for August 23.

Court proceedings revealed that Roggio was convicted for torturing an Estonian citizen in the Kurdistan region of Iraq in 2015, linked to the operation of an illicit weapons manufacturing plant.

“Court records and trial evidence show that Ross Roggio, from Stroudsburg, conspired with Kurdish soldiers to kidnap and detain the victim at a Kurdish military compound,” explained the Justice Department. “Here, Roggio subjected the victim to asphyxiation with a belt, finger amputation threats, and ordered the Kurdish soldiers to inflict repeated physical and mental abuse on the victim over a 39-day period.”

Documents reviewed by NRT English, including one submitted by the US government, reveal that Roggio, in collaboration with Kurdish soldiers and officials, masterminded the torture of one of his employees at his weapons factory near Sulaymaniyah in October and November 2015.

The US government elaborated that while Roggio actively participated in the torture, the majority of the physical pain and suffering inflicted upon the victim was carried out by Kurdish soldiers under Roggio’s direction.

In 2015, Roggio was establishing a factory to produce M4 automatic assault rifles in the Kurdistan region, using parts illegally exported from the United States, according to the Justice Department. The torture victim was an employee at this factory who had expressed concerns about the project. To prevent further disruptions, Roggio arranged for peshmerga fighters to kidnap the man.

The victim was held at a Kurdish military camp for 39 days, where Roggio allegedly led multiple torture sessions, ordering peshmerga members to abuse the man with various brutal methods.

According to court records, the motivation for the torture was the victim’s discovery of Roggio’s inability to manufacture the large quantities of type-4 rifles and Glock pistols he had promised. Fearing that the employee might disclose this information to Kurdish officials, Roggio coordinated with Kurdish security forces to abduct him.

While torture is strictly prohibited under the Iraqi constitution, reports from the US State Department and international organisations around 2016-17 highlighted instances of torture and other abuses committed by government agents.

The court documents further draw attention to Polad Talabany, brother of the deposed co-leader Lahur Talabany, who headed the PUK’s counterterrorism unit at the time. FBI investigations disclosed that Roggio had collaborated with Polad Talabani to establish an arms factory in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

The documents reveal that Roggio received significant financial backing via international bank transfers to set up the arms factory near Sulaymaniyah, with machinery for the manufacturing process acquired from China.

American journalist Zack Kopplin also previously reported on Polad Talabany’s role as a key facilitator in Roggio’s transition into an international arms dealer.

NRT English has reached out to Lahur and Polad Talabany for comment but they could not be immediately reached.