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The ACLU and Human Rights First have sued Rumsfeld on behalf of eight men who say that they were tortured by military forces under Rumsfeld's command. The lawsuit was filed this morning in federal district court in Chicago.

The distinguished legal scholar (I don't know if he/she wants his/her name used) who sent me this happy news noted:

In Nuremberg and later in proceedings of the International Criminal Courts for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, a doctrine of per se ministerial liability for systematic abuses of detainees in wartime was crafted. Applying the legal standards of those cases to the current war, Donald Rumsfeld would clearly go to prison, or perhaps face the death penalty.

Lawsuits are assigned to judges at random. This one was assigned to Judge Joan Gottschall, which is an excellent draw. Judge Gottschall is smart and not afraid to speak truth to power. For example, in 2002, she dismissed the lawsuit United States v. Benevolence International Foundation.

That took considerable guts, since the Justice Department claimed (and still claims) that BIF provided financial support to terrorists, and trumpeted this as a major anti-terrorism case. John Ashcroft personally came to Chicago to announce the indictment, the case was prosecuted personally by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (now the prosecutor in the Valerie Plame matter), and the case was the subject of numerous front-page stories in the Chicago papers.

Below is (most of) the ACLU press release:

Former Government and Military Officials Join Landmark Lawsuit

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld bears direct responsibility for the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First charged today in the first federal court lawsuit to name a top U.S. official in the ongoing torture scandal in Iraq and Afghanistan that has tarnished America's reputation.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Illinois on behalf of eight men who were subject to torture and abuse at the hands of U.S. forces under Secretary Rumsfeld's command. The parties are seeking a court order declaring that Secretary 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. Admiral Hutson and General Cullen are "of counsel" to Human Rights First.

"Since 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. These calls have gone unanswered by the administration and Congress, and today many of the illegal policies remain in place," said Michael Posner, Executive Director of Human Rights First. "We believed the United States could correct its policy without resort to the courts. In bringing this action today, we reluctantly conclude that we were wrong."

The men represented in the lawsuit were incarcerated in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they were subjected to 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. 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 Admiral 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 Secretary 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, Secretary 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 Secretary 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.

"Human rights law and military rules prohibit torture at all times and in every circumstance, a principle that applies to the highest commander as well as the lowest subordinate," said co-counsel Lee, the former Justice Department official.

Official government reports have documented many horrific abuses inflicted on detainees in U.S. custody. They have shown that the abuse was ongoing and was not limited to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. The ACLU and other advocacy groups have obtained over 23,000 pages of documents concerning abuses through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, online at As these documents indicate, the FBI began to complain about the interrogation techniques used by the military on detainees in Guantánamo as early as 2002, techniques that spread to Afghanistan and Iraq. Media reports have also brought many disturbing incidents to light, including the deaths of detainees in custody.

The ACLU and Human Rights First have created a detailed timeline of the various actions that Secretary Rumsfeld took and the points at which he was informed of the abuses that resulted, online at and

"The effects of Rumsfeld's policies have been devastating both to America's international reputation as a beacon of freedom and democracy, and to the hundreds, even thousands of individuals who have suffered at the hands of U.S. forces," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero.

Details about the clients in the case can be found in the legal complaint and in individual biographical statements online at and Due to safety and privacy concerns, the individuals named in the complaint are not currently available for interview.

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 torture 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.

Please recommend this diary if you're as excited as I am about this development.

Originally posted to Frederick on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:06 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  here is (none)
    clickable link to human rights
    end torture now.......
    The horrific pictures we have seen from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were just the tip of iceberg on torture. For more than three years, detainees held by the United States have been systematically tortured and abused.

  •  You beat me to it. (3.66)
    I really like this one:

    Due to safety and privacy concerns, the individuals named in the complaint are not currently available for interview.

    The fact that the legal team includes former top military JAG Corps & DOJ attorneys makes me believe it may even get to trial.

    •  yes, Human Rights and the ACLU (none)
      great combination and great lawyers too.

      Michael Posner

      Following the attacks on this country on September 11, 2001, the U.S. government took a number of actions aimed at protecting our national security. Many of these steps were prudent and sensible. But other actions, such as those we address in this lawsuit, have seriously undermined human rights principles fundamental to what the United States is as a nation.
      Our hope was that we could achieve accountability for torture, and correction of the policies that led to it, without resort to the courts. In bringing this action today, we have reluctantly concluded we were wrong. Our traditional approach would not bear results.

      We are here today asking U.S. federal courts for relief for two reasons: First, to end the practice and the policy of torture. The United States was founded on the simple principle that all people, by virtue of their humanity, have inalienable rights under law. Torture and calculated cruelty inflicted as official policy - the kind of abuses suffered by our clients and documented by our complaint - cannot be reconciled with this principle.

      Just some of his statement, which I found very moving.

    •  Conviction (none)

      Not a chance of conviction, though. Even if he does, I'm pretty sure the President can still pull a pardon out of his ass. Or the Supreme Court will simply overturn it.

      It's like the media listened to Weird Al's "Dare to be Stupid" and said "Yes! This is how the world should be!"

      by RHunter on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:49:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  This is a civil case (none)
        This is a civil lawsuit, so no conviction is possible. I haven't read the complaint, but I assume the plaintiffs are seeking money damages and injunctive relief (i.e., in this case, an order requiring Rumsfeld and other members of the military not to torture people henceforth).

        The president only has the power to issue pardons from criminal convictions. If the plaintiffs obtain a money judgment against Rumsfeld and/or the judge enters an injunction, Bush couldn't enter a pardon that would undo that relief.

        Send Dubya back to the ranch! BeatBushBlog

        by Frederick on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:25:06 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Do any lawyers out there know (none)
      What chance this case has? Doesn't Sovereign Immunity preclude this type of suit?

      How much will you lose with Bush's Social Security plan? Click to find out.

      by Goldfish on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:00:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Recommended!!! (none)
    And life-long Republican Rear Admiral John D. Hutson acting as co-counsel! Let's see the freepers choke on that for awhile. I can't wait to hear them call a career Naval officer a traitor because he's as enraged with this shit as we are.

    How much will you lose with Bush's Social Security plan? Click to find out.

    by Goldfish on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 04:56:51 PM PST

  •  This lawsuit makes me proud of my country (none)
    This case and the South Carolina decision concerning Padilla allow for some hope that the right wing has not completely extinquished democracy and the rule of law in the U.S.

    "Men use thought only to justify their wrongdoing, and employ speech only to conceal their thoughts." Voltaire

    by chimpwatch on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:14:36 PM PST

  •  Tip jar (4.00)
    I guess it's customary to put one out.

    Send Dubya back to the ranch! BeatBushBlog

    by Frederick on Tue Mar 01, 2005 at 05:16:30 PM PST

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