By Associated Press in Washington
An American former military contractor who claims he was imprisoned and tortured by the US army in Iraq has been allowed by a judge to sue the former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld personally for damages.
The man, an army veteran whose identity has been withheld, worked as a translator for the US marines in the volatile Anbar province when he was detained for nine months at Camp Cropper, a US military facility near Baghdad airport dedicated to holding “high-value” detainees.
The government says he was suspected of helping to pass classified information to the enemy and helping anti-coalition forces enter Iraq. But he was never charged with a crime, and says he never broke the law.
Lawyers for the man, who is in his 50s, say he was preparing to return to the US on annual leave when he was detained without justification and that his family knew nothing about his whereabouts or whether he was still alive.
Court papers filed on his behalf say he was repeatedly abused, then released without explanation in August 2006. Two years later, he filed a suit in Washington arguing that Rumsfeld personally approved torturous interrogation techniques on a case-by-case basis and controlled his detention without access to the courts in violation of his constitutional rights.
Mike Kanovitz, the Chicago lawyer representing the plaintiff, says it appears the military wanted to keep his client behind bars so he would be unable tell anyone about an important contact he made with a leading sheik while helping to collect intelligence in Iraq.
The plaintiff says he was the first American to open direct talks with Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, who became an important US ally and later led a revolt of Sunni sheiks against al-Qaida before being killed by a bomb.
“The US government wasn’t ready for the rest of the world to know about it, so they basically put him on ice,” Kanovitz said. “If you’ve got unchecked power over the citizens, why not use it?”
The Obama administration has represented Rumsfeld through the justice department and argued that he could not be sued personally for official conduct. It also argued that a judge could not review wartime decisions which are the constitutional responsibility of Congress and the president. The case could disclose sensitive information and distract from the war effort, and the threat of liability would impede future military decisions, it said.
District judge James Gwin rejected those arguments and said US citizens were protected by the constitution at home or abroad during wartime. “The stakes in holding detainees at Camp Cropper may have been high, but one purpose of the constitutional limitations on interrogation techniques and conditions of confinement even domestically is to strike a balance between government objectives and individual rights, even when the stakes are high,” he ruled.
In many other cases brought by foreign detainees, judges have dismissed torture claims against US officials for their personal involvement in decisions over prisoner treatment. But this is the second time a federal judge has allowed a US citizen to sue Rumsfeld personally.
District judge Wayne Andersen in Illinois last year ruled that Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel, Americans who worked in Iraq as contractors and were held at Camp Cropper, could pursue claims that they were tortured using Rumsfeld-approved methods after they suspected the security firm they worked for of engaging in illegal activities.
The US supreme court sets a high bar for suing high-ranking officials, requiring they be tied directly to a violation of constitutional rights and must have clearly understood their actions crossed that line.
Hat tip WantToKnow.info