Rumsfeld Sued Over Torture in Iraq and Afghanistan
major U.S. human rights groups Tuesday filed a lawsuit in federal
court in Chicago against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on behalf
of eight named Afghan and Iraqi plaintiffs who say they were tortured
and abused while in the custody of the U.S. military.
76-page filing by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and
Human Rights First (HRF) asserts that Rumsfeld bears direct responsibility
for the torture and abuse of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq and
should be held accountable.
plaintiffs are asking the courts to issue an order declaring that
Rumsfeld's actions violate the U.S. Constitution, federal law, and
international treaties ratified by the United States, notably the
Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT).
They are also asking that they be compensated for the harm inflicted
by their treatment in detention.
Rumsfeld bears direct and ultimate responsibility for this descent
into horror by personally authorizing unlawful interrogation techniques
and by abdicating his legal duty to stop torture," said Lucas
Guttentag, lead counsel in the lawsuit and the director of the ACLU's
Immigrants' Rights Project, at a press conference in Washington
gives lip service to being responsible but has not been held accountable
for his actions. This lawsuit puts the blame where it belongs, on
the secretary of defense," he added, noting that the case was
being filed in Illinois, Rumsfeld's voting residence, because he
is being sued in both his personal and official capacities.
case caps a series of disclosures about U.S. military abuses against
detainees held in Afghanistan and Iraq since last April, when photos
depicting the torture and humiliation of Iraqis held in Abu Ghraib
prison first came to light.
then, the ACLU and other human rights groups have obtained in a
separate Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit thousands of
e-mails and other documents that establish that the abuses depicted
in the original photos have been far more widespread than the government
has admitted. Confidential reports by the International Red Cross,
as well as media interviews with U.S. servicemen and former detainees,
have bolstered that conclusion.
leaks of internal administration memorandums from the White House,
the Pentagon, and the Justice Department have also shown that Rumsfeld
approved specific techniques, including "stress positions,"
nudity, the use of dogs, prolonged isolation and interrogations,
and sensory deprivation all of which are considered inappropriate
and potentially counterproductive in U.S. Army field manuals
at various times since 2002.
is simply no doubt that his policies caused the abuses to occur,"
said Guttentag, who said that as defense secretary, Rumsfeld had
"command responsibility," a legal doctrine that holds
that a commanding officer is liable for acts of his subordinates
if he knows or has reason to know that torture or cruel and inhuman
treatment is likely to result from the execution of a commander's
said Rumsfeld had received numerous reports about how detainees
were treated long before the Abu Ghraib photos were first brought
to his attention. He added that other defendants in the chain of
command may be added to the case as more evidence of their involvement
came to light.
the evidence of widespread abuses and torture has mounted, human
rights groups, the American Bar Association (ABA), a number of top
retired military commanders, as well as Democratic lawmakers have
called for a full-scale investigation by an independent commission
to determine who was responsible.
these appeals have been repeatedly rebuffed by the administration
and the Republican majority in Congress. They have insisted that
the 300-some investigations, courts-martial, and administrative
inquiries that have been or are still being carried out as a result
of specific incidents of abuse should be adequate. So far, however,
no U.S. official above the rank of lieutenant has been punished.
however, have pointed out that none of these mechanisms has addressed
the possible responsibility of senior civilian officials, although
a high-level panel appointed by Rumsfeld reported that his lists
of permissible interrogation methods led to confusion in the field
as to what was authorized.
Abu Ghraib, we have vigorously campaigned for an independent commission
to investigate U.S. policies that have led to torture and cruel
treatment of detainees," said Michael Posner, HRF's executive
director. "These calls have gone unanswered by the administration
and Congress, and today many of the illegal policies remain in place."
believed the United States could correct its policy without resort
to the courts," he said. "In bringing this action today,
we reluctantly conclude that we were wrong."
eight plaintiffs, who include four Iraqis and four Afghans, allegedly
suffered torture or cruel and inhuman treatment, including some
combination of severe beatings; stabbings and mutilation; lengthy
periods of isolation and sleep and sensory deprivation; mock executions;
electric shocks; prolonged exposure to temperature extremes; sexual
humiliation, assault and/or sodomy; hanging from ceilings or walls;
"stress positions"; and threats against their lives or
those of their families during their detention.
Iraq detainee was only 17 when he was detained in August 2003 and
held for four weeks at Abu Ghraib and other prisons. During his
arrest, soldiers allegedly shot him in the neck and the back and
then refused to provide medical care for several hours.
the bullets were finally removed (without an anesthetic), he was
denied food, water, and pain medication for almost two days and
repeatedly mistreated during his detention.
of the plaintiffs have been extensively interviewed by ACLU and
HRF lawyers who said they hoped to bring them to the United States
to testify personally regarding their experiences in U.S. custody.
have been extraordinarily courageous," said Deborah Pearlstein,
director of HRF's U.S. Law and Security Program. She noted that
none of the former detainees had ever been compensated by U.S. officials
for their ordeal, and two of the eight were taken back into custody
after they were freed when they inquired about other detainees.
addition to ACLU and HRF lawyers, the plaintiffs' team includes
the former assistant attorney general for civil rights under Bill
Clinton, Bill Lann Lee, and several retired military judges, including
the former Judge Advocate General of the Navy, Rear Adm. John D.
Hutson, and the former chief judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal
Appeals, Gen. James Cullen.
is not an easy thing for me to do," Hutson said Tuesday. "One
of the greatest strengths of the U.S. military throughout our history
has been strong civilian leadership at the top of the chain of command.
Unfortunately, Secretary Rumsfeld has failed to live up to that
that tradition. That imperils our troops and undermines the war
is already the target of another lawsuit, one brought last October
in Britain by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights
(CCR) representing four British ex-detainees. It named Rumsfeld,
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, and several other
officers for their responsibility in the treatment of detainees
at the Guantanamo Bay navy base in Cuba.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service