Rumsfeld Sued Over Prisoner Abuse

By James Gerstenzang

Los Angeles Times

March 1, 2005

WASHINGTON — Seeking to link the military command to the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ACLU and a human rights organization sued Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and three Army officers today on behalf of torture victims there, charging that Rumsfeld authorized illegal interrogation techniques.

The suit states that the Pentagon chief "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 legal action stems from some of the well-documented instances of torture meted out to detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, and the less-known examples of abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan. It was filed on behalf of four Iraqis and four Afghanis.

The civil liberties group and its co-plaintiff, the Human Rights First organization, face considerable obstacles under the Alien Tort Claims Act, among them establishing that Rumsfeld and the others are not protected by official immunity and that the former prisoners have grounds to sue in U.S. courts.

"The lawsuit is not frivolous. But it is unlikely to prove successful in the long run. The Supreme Court has been extremely hostile toward the application of U.S. laws outside of our borders," said Jonathan Turley, an expert on international law at the George Washington University Law School.

Nevertheless, if the federal courts allow it to proceed, the lawsuit could bring further attention to the abuse of prisoners at the hands of U.S. soldiers and force the Pentagon to disclose additional details from its investigations of the abuse.

The suit says the prisoners were subjected to severe and repeated beatings, were cut with knives, faced sexual humiliation and assault, were confined in a wooden coffin-like box, were deprived of sleep, subjected to mock executions, threatened with death, and restrained in "contorted and excruciating positions."

In addition to Rumsfeld, the defendants are Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who led U.S. forces in Iraq in the period immediately after the invasion in 2003; Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the former commander of military police in Iraq who was relieved of her command after the abuse at Abu Ghraib was disclosed; and Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who, as commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade in Iraq, was responsible for many of the interrogations there.

In response to the lawsuit, the Pentagon denied that it had "approved of, sanctioned, or condoned as a matter of policy detainee abuse."

Distancing Rumsfeld from the actions of soldiers in the field, the Defense Department said in a statement: "No policies or procedures approved by the secretary of Defense were intended as, or could conceivably have been interpreted as, a policy of abuse, or as condoning abuse."

It said that multiple investigations had already been conducted and none had found that the department had maintained a policy intended to abuse prisoners.