In March 2012 the ACLU filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) against the U.S. on behalf of three Afghanis and three Iraqis who were tortured while held by the American military at detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2004. They were part of a group of men that in 2005 sued then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and three senior military officials in federal court for their torture and abuse. That case was summarily dismissed on immunity grounds before reaching the merits.
The petition asks the Commission, an independent human rights body of the Organization of American States, to conduct a full investigation into the human rights violations, and seeks an apology on behalf of the six men from the U.S. government.
The men were detained in U.S.-run detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they were subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment including severe and repeated beatings, cutting with knives, sexual humiliation and assault, mock executions, and prolonged restraint in excruciating positions. None of the men were ever charged with a crime.
The petition to the IACHR states, “The U.S. government’s own reports document that the torture and inhumane treatment that Petitioners were subjected to were not aberrational; on the contrary, it was widespread and systemic throughout the U.S.-run detention facilities in the two countries. These same reports also document that the torture and inhumane treatment of detainees was the direct result of policies and practices promulgated and implemented at the highest levels of the U.S. government. Despite these reports and Petitioners’ and other detainees’ credible allegations of torture and inhumane treatment, the U.S. government has failed to conduct any comprehensive criminal investigation, has not held accountable those responsible, and has not provided any form of redress to Petitioners and the many other victims and survivors of U.S. torture and abuse.”
In the federal case, Ali v. Rumsfeld, the district court dismissed on the grounds that constitutional protections did not apply to foreigners in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that the American officials were immune from lawsuits stemming from actions taken “within the scope of their official duties.” In his March 2007 ruling, Judge Thomas A. Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia called the case “appalling,” and noted that “the facts alleged in the complaint stand as an indictment of the humanity with which the United States treats its detainees.” The DC appeals court upheld the dismissal in June 2011.
Ali v. Rumsfeld is one of several lawsuits in which victims of torture have been shut out of American courts. Others cases include Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, a lawsuit against a flight logistics company that facilitated CIA “torture flights” across the globe; El-Masri v. Tenet, a lawsuit brought by a man abducted and sent to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan; and Padilla v. Rumsfeld, a lawsuit brought by a U.S. citizen who was unlawfully detained and abused on U.S. soil (this case is currently pending appeal).