The Case Against Rumsfeld
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.