Rumsfeld Sued Over U.S. Detention, Interrogation Policies

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld bears direct responsibility for the abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First charges in the first federal court lawsuit to name a top U.S. official in the ongoing torture scandal in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The case, Ali et al., v. Rumsfeld, was filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of eight men who were subject to torture and abuse at the hands of U.S. forces under Rumsfeld's command. The parties are seeking a court order declaring that Rumsfeld's actions violated the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes and international law.

"Secretary 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 director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "He 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."

The groups are joined as co-counsel in the lawsuit by Rear Admiral John D. Hutson (Ret. USN), former judge advocate general of the Navy; Brigadier General James Cullen (Ret. USA), former chief judge (IMA) of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals; and Bill Lann Lee, chair of the Human Rights Practice Group at Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP and former assistant attorney general for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice. Hutson and Cullen are "of counsel" to Human Rights First.

The men represented in the lawsuit were incarcerated in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they were subjected to "cruel and degrading treatment," according to the ACLU and Human Rights First, including severe and repeated beatings, cutting with knives, sexual humiliation and assault, mock executions, death threats, and restraint in contorted and excruciating positions. None of the men were ever charged with a crime. All have been released.

"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," said Hutson. "Unfortunately, Secretary Rumsfeld has failed to live up to that tradition. In the end, that imperils our troops and undermines the war effort. It is critical that we return to another military tradition: accountability."

In legal papers, the groups charged Rumsfeld with violations of the U.S. Constitution and international law prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. The lawsuit also seeks compensatory damages for the harms suffered as a result of torture and other abuse.

According to the complaint, Rumsfeld "authorized an abandonment of our nation's inviolable and deep-rooted prohibition against torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees in U.S. military custody." The complaint further charges that brutal and illegal interrogation techniques were personally approved by Rumsfeld in December 2002. Those techniques included the use of "stress positions," 20-hour interrogations, the removal of clothing, the use of dogs, isolation and sensory deprivation.

Although some of these techniques were later rescinded, Rumsfeld personally approved a new list in April 2003, which included dietary manipulation, sensory deprivation and "false flag" (leading detainees to believe that they have been transferred to a country that permits torture). He also made clear that harsher techniques could be used with his personal authorization.

The ACLU has also filed three similar complaints against Colonel Thomas Pappas, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski and Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez on behalf of the victims who were detained in Iraq. These three additional complaints were filed in federal courts in Connecticut, South Carolina and Texas, respectively, due to court requirements regarding jurisdiction.

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