Secretary Rumsfeld Attempts to Shirk Responsibility for U.S. Torture Policies, Say ACLU and Human Rights First

NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First today announced their response to arguments by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and three other defendants that they are immune from a lawsuit holding them accountable for policies adopted under their watch which resulted in torture and abuse of civilians detained by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The Constitution prohibits the Secretary of Defense from adopting or permitting policies of torture or cruelty against civilians detained in U.S. military custody,” said Lucas Guttentag, lead counsel in the lawsuit and director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “He and the other defendants seem to believe that the Constitution is irrelevant if the victims are foreign nationals tortured outside the United States. That is not the law, and the courts are able to hold government officials accountable for the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the widespread abuse that resulted from the Rumsfeld policies.”

The filing is the latest development in a lawsuit against Secretary Rumsfeld brought by the ACLU and Human Rights First in March 2005 on behalf of victims of torture in U.S. custody, and three related lawsuits filed by the ACLU against Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, former Brigadier General Janis Karpinski and Colonel Thomas Pappas. The four cases were consolidated and transferred to the federal district court in Washington D.C. last year. The filing is in response to Secretary Rumsfeld’s and other defendants’arguments thateven if all the facts in the complaint are proven true, the case must be dismissed because they areimmune from liability.

“Our laws clearly state that commanders are responsible for the actions of their troops if they knew or should have known of their wrongdoing. Secretary Rumsfeld’s argument that ordering torture was ‘within the scope of his employment’ shows a complete disregard for U.S. and international law,” said Hina Shamsi, counsel in the lawsuit and senior counsel in the U.S. Law and Security Program at Human Rights First.

The combined lawsuit, which is the first federal court case to name a top U.S. official in the ongoing torture scandal in both Iraq and Afghanistan, charges the Secretary and three senior commanders with legal responsibility for acts of torture and abuse against the Iraqi and Afghan plaintiffs in the case. The men represented in the lawsuit were held in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they were subjected to abuse, 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 was ever charged with a crime. All have been released.

Eight military law experts filed a friend of the court brief in support of the ACLU and Human Rights First’s arguments on behalf of their clients. According to the experts, “It was the essence of Secretary Rumsfeld and other defendants’ scope of employment to educate and train those within their command responsibility to adhere to domestic and international standards and to do everything within their power to prevent and punish deviations from them.” The experts gave the court their opinion that, contrary to the position of Secretary Rumsfeld, allowing the federal case to proceed would not intrude into matters of national security and military decision-making.

The original complaint in the lawsuit was filed on March 1, 2005. The ACLU and Human Rights First filed an amended complaint on January 6, 2006, after the suit the four lawsuits were consolidated and transferred to Washington DC. In addition to Guttentag, and Shamsi, the attorneys in the case are: Steven R. Shapiro, Cecillia Wang, Amrit Singh and Omar Jadwat of the ACLU; Michael Posner, Deborah Pearlstein and Priti Patel of Human Rights First in addition to others. The groups are joined as co-counsel in the lawsuit by 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. Rear Admiral John D. Hutson (Ret. USN), former Judge Advocate General of the Navy; and Brigadier General James Cullen (Ret. USA), former Chief Judge (IMA) of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, are also engaged as “of counsel” to Human Rights First.

More information about the case including the latest filing and the amicus brief can be found online at:  and

Plaintiffs Consolidated Opposition to Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss (PDF -522KB)

Amici Curiae of Concerned Retired Military Officers and Military Law and History Scholars in Support of Plaintiffs’ Opposition (PDF -893KB)


Published on May 25, 2006


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