Donald Rumsfeld 311 R.
(photo credit: Yuri Gripas / Reuters)
WASHINGTON - Two American men can go ahead with a civil lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a US appeals court said on Monday, over allegations they were tortured in Iraq at the hands of the US military.
Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel sued in federal court seeking damages from Rumsfeld and unnamed others over their roles in developing, authorizing and using harsh interrogation techniques in Iraq against them, thus violating their rights.
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The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, based in Chicago, upheld a decision by a federal judge in Illinois to allow the lawsuit to proceed despite efforts by the former Bush and current Obama administration to get the case dismissed.
The two men worked for a private security company in Iraq in 2006 and said they became concerned the firm was engaging in illegal bribery or other corruption activities. They notified US authorities and began cooperating with them.
In early 2006, they were taken into custody by US military forces and
eventually taken to Camp Cropper near Baghdad's airport. Vance and Ertel
claimed they were subjected to harsh interrogations and physical and
Months later they said they were unceremoniously dropped at the airport
and never charged with a crime. They sued, seeking unspecified damages
and saying their constitutional rights had been violated and US
officials knew they were innocent.
The appeals court ruled that while it may have been unusual for Rumsfeld
to be personally responsible for the treatment of detainees, the two
men had sufficiently argued that the decisions were made at the highest
levels of government.
"We agree with the district court that the plaintiffs have alleged
sufficient facts to show that Secretary Rumsfeld personally established
the relevant policies that caused the alleged violations of their
constitutional rights during detention," the court ruled in a split
The three-judge panel voted 2-1 to affirm the lower court ruling. Judge
Daniel Manion dissented, saying Congress has yet to decide whether
courts should have a role in deciding whether such claims against the US
military can be pursued.
A lawyer representing Rumsfeld said the appeals court decision was a blow to the US military.
"Having judges second guess the decisions made by the armed forces
halfway around the world is no way to wage a war," attorney David Rivkin
said in a statement.
"It saps the effectiveness of the military, puts American soldiers at
risk, and shackles federal officials who have a constitutional duty to
A spokesman for the US Justice Department, which has been representing
the former defense secretary, had no immediate comment. The Justice
Department could appeal to the full appeals court or to the US Supreme
There have been other lawsuits against Rumsfeld and the US government
over allegations of abuse and torture overseas, but most involved
foreigners, not US citizens, so federal courts have typically dismissed
A district judge in Washington last week allowed a similar case to
proceed involving an American translator who worked in Iraq with the US
military and who said he was later detained and subjected to harsh
interrogation techniques and abuse.