The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Court Rules Citizens Allowed to Sue Rumsfeld for Torture

By aaroncynic in News on Aug 10, 2011 1:30PM

250px-Rumsfeld1.jpg The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled Monday two men can move forward with a civil lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Tribune reports the Court upheld a decision from a federal judge allowing a lawsuit which holds Rumsfeld personally responsible for the torture of Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel, two former defense contractors in Iraq.

In 2006, while Vance and Ertel were working in Iraq for Shield Group Security, a private contractor, they began to suspect their employer of involvement in illegal arms trading, bribery, and other activities. The two reported their concerns to the U.S. Government and soon became FBI informants. According to Courthouse News Service, Shield soon confiscated Vance and Ertel's credentials, which effectively trapped them in the Red Zone. According to court documents, the two men called their government contacts, who told them “they should interpret Shield Group Security's actions as taking them hostage, and should barricade themselves with weapons in a room of the compound. They were assured that U.S. Forces would come to rescue them.”

After U.S. Forces picked up the two and they shared their information with military, Vance and Ertel were arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to Camp Prosperity near Baghdad. After two days at Camp Prosperity, they were shipped to Camp Cropper where they were “detained incommunicado,” kept in solitary confinement and tortured. According to the court report, the men were kept in cold cells covered in feces, often deprived of food and water, walled, denied medical care and subject to various forms of psychological torture.

The Court found that the allegations were enough that a Bivens remedy, which allows personal lawsuits against government officials who violate constitutional rights, should be available to Vance and Ertel. Judge David Hamilton wrote “While it may be unusual that such a high-level official would be personally responsible for the treatment of detainees, here we are addressing an unusual situation where issues concerning harsh interrogation techniques and detention policies were decided, at least as the plaintiffs have pled, at the highest levels of the federal government.”

Rumsfeld's lawyer issued a statement denouncing the ruling, saying it puts American lives at risk, “shackles federal officials” and distracts military officers from their duty to the country. Dissenting Judge Daniel Manion argued that the case “is not about constitutional rights, against torture or otherwise,” but about the “appropriate remedies for that abuse and who must decide what those remedies will be” and that it should be sorted by Congress.

Both Rumsfeld's lawyer and Manion argued such a suit could open a “Pandora's Box” of complaints under Bivens framework. The majority said, however, “If we were to accept the defendants' invitation to recognize the broad and unprecedented immunity they seek, then the judicial branch - which is charged with enforcing constitutional rights - would be leaving our citizens defenseless to serious abuse or worse by another branch of their own government.”