The Case Against Rumsfeld

Document Date: May 23, 2006

The Case Against Rumsfeld

In March 2005, the ACLU and Human Rights First filed a landmark lawsuit charging former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior military leaders with direct responsibility for the torture and abuse of detainees. The suit was brought on behalf of nine men subjected to torture and abuse under Rumsfeld’s command.

The lawsuit set forth the legal basis for holding Rumsfeld and other high-ranking members of the armed services responsible for torture and abuse of civilians detained by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the case’s December 2006 hearing, the defendants claimed they cannot be held legally liable for the torture of civilians in U.S. custody. The ACLU 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, former 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.

Former secretary Rumsfeld asserted that he is immune (PDF) from responsibility for acts of torture and abuse committed under his watch.

On March 27, 2007, Chief Judge Thomas A. Hogan of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the case. Despite rejecting key constitutional protections for the victims bringing the suit, Judge Hogan declared in his ruling that the case is “lamentable” and “appalling,” and noted “the facts alleged in the complaint stand as an indictment of the humanity with which the United States treats its detainees.”

Retired military officers and military legal experts filed amicus briefs (PDF) in support of the lawsuit, arguing against Rumsfeld’s position on the basis that allowing the federal case to proceed would not be an intrusion into matters of national security and military decision-making. Two of the world’s foremost scholars on the international laws against torture and abusive treatment also filed an amicus brief (PDF) in support of the lawsuit.

On April 25, 2008, the ACLU and HRF filed an unusual motion in federal court in an effort to overturn the dismissal of the lawsuit. The motion asks for the entire panel of appeals court judges to reconsider its existing decisions that suggest that foreign nationals outside the United States can never bring a claim against government officials for violations of the Constitution. That motion was denied.

> ACLU and Human Rights First Express Disappointment at Dismissal of Rumsfeld Torture Case (3/27/2007)
> In Torture Case Against Rumsfeld, Lawyers Cite Widespread Pattern of Abuse, Need for Accountability (12/8/2006)
> Pentagon Releases Whitewash Report on Detainee Abuse (7/3/2006)
> Secretary Rumsfeld Attempts to Shirk Responsibility for U.S. Torture Policies (5/25/2006)
> Government Authenticates Abu Ghraib Abuse Images
> ACLU and Human Rights First Respond to Secretary Rumsfeld’s Claims of Immunity (3/6/2006)
> ACLU and Human Rights First File Amended Complaint in Rumsfeld Lawsuit (1/5/2006)
> D.C.Federal Court Will Hear Lawsuit Against Rumsfeld (6/22/2005)

> Ali v. Rumsfeld – Appeals Court Ruling Affirming Dismissal – June 21, 2011 (Off-site, PDF)
> Memorandum Opinion Granting Motion to Dismiss
> Order Granting Motion to Dismiss
> Retired Military Officers and Military Legal Experts, Amici Curiae, (Off-site, PDF)
> Scholars on Laws Against Torture, Amicus Brief, (Off-site, PDF)
> Consolidated Amended Complaint for Declaratory Relief, Damages
> Legal basis
> Complaints against:
Rumsfeld | Karpinski | Sanchez | Pappas

> Legal Director Steve Shapiro blogs about the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Guantánamo detainees’ challenge to the Military Commissions Act
> Staff Attorney Ben Wizner blogs from Guantánamo Bay as he witnesses the first proceedings of the new flawed military commissions
> Dispatches From Guantánamo 2006
> Dispatches From Geneva 2005
> Dispatches From Guantánamo 2004

> ACLU Response to HRC Request for Information on U.S. Counter-Terrorism
> ACLU Report on U.S. Implementation of the Convention Against Torture (CAT)

> Human Rights First
> Lieff Cabraser Heimman and Bernstein, LLP

Legal Director Steve Shapiro discusses court rulings regarding the Bush Administration’s unlawful detention policy at Guantánamo Bay
Lucas Guttentag, Immigrants’ Rights Project Director, on the lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld
Dirty Wars: An Evening of Readings that highlighted the U.S. government’s unlawful use of torture and cruelty, secret and arbitrary detention, and extraordinary rendition in its counterterrorism efforts.