ACLU Argues Case Against Rumsfeld
Today, in federal court, the ACLU and Human Rights First argued its case that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should be held accountable for the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody.
Today’s hearing marked the first time a federal court has considered whether top U.S. officials can be held legally accountable for the torture scandal in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The ACLU and Human Rights First filed the lawsuit in March 2005 on behalf of nine innocent civilians who were detained by the United States military in Iraq and Afghanistan. While in U.S. custody, the men were subjected to abuse, torture and other cruel and degrading treatment, including severe and repeated beatings, cutting with knives, sexual humiliation and assault, mock executions, death threats, and restraint in contorted and excruciating positions. All of the men were released without charge.
“Our clients’ case is about ensuring that there’s meaningful accountability, to create an effective deterrent against future violations and to ensure the courts’ ongoing role in enforcing the law against torture,” said Deborah Pearlstein, director of Human Rights First’s Law and Security program. “The Supreme Court has made it clear that wartime does not create a law-free zone.”
Rumsfeld moved to dismiss the lawsuit, hence, the hearing today.
Today’s hearing addressed the defendants’ claim that they cannot be held legally liable for the torture of civilians in U.S. custody. The ACLU and Human Rights First argued that the Constitution and international law clearly prohibit torture and require commanders to act when they know or should have known of abuses. In addition to the orders they gave directly, Secretary Rumsfeld and the other defendants were repeatedly notified of abuse and torture at detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan by military reports, the International Red Cross and other reports and complaints by human rights organizations.
The groups further charge in the lawsuit that Secretary Rumsfeld personally approved brutal and illegal interrogation techniques in December 2002. Those techniques included the use of “stress positions,” the removal of clothing, the use of dogs, and isolation and sensory deprivation.
The ACLU also brought three related lawsuits against Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, former Brigadier General Janis Karpinski and Colonel Thomas Pappas. The four cases were consolidated and transferred to Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. All of the defendants have moved to dismiss the suits in their entirety.
The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages for the plaintiffs and a court order declaring that the actions of Secretary Rumsfeld and the other officers violated the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes and international law.
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