Thursday, March 03, 2005

Justice for torture

For a while I've been suggesting that Donald Rumsfeld could be sued or even prosecuted in the US for authorising interrogation techniques which are tantamount to torture. Now, someone is finally doing it. Rumsfeld is being sued in his home state of Illinois, by the ACLU and Human Rights First, who are acting on behalf of eight Iraqi and Afghan detainees who were

...incarcerated in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they were subjected to 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 were ever charged with a crime. All have been released.

Rumsfeld is being held responsible for this because he

"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 complaint further charges that brutal and illegal interrogation techniques were personally approved by Secretary Rumsfeld in December 2002. Those techniques included the use of "stress positions," 20-hour interrogations, the removal of clothing, the use of dogs, isolation, and sensory deprivation.

Although some of these techniques were later rescinded, Rumsfeld personally approved a new list in April 2003, which included dietary manipulation, sensory deprivation and "false flag" (leading detainees to believe that they have been transferred to a country that permits torture). He also made clear that harsher techniques could be used with his personal authorization.

[Links added in so you can see the documentary trail. It's particularly chilling that the initial request included techniques such as "use of a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation" (the "dry submarine" - a form of waterboarding) and "[convincing] the detainee that death or severely painful consequences are imminent for him and/or his family". The latter is explicitly defined as torture in the US anti-torture statute.]

A secondary part of the complaint is based on the principle of command responsibility: even if he didn't directly order the abuses or establish a policy framework which encouraged them, Rumsfeld is still responsible for actions carried out by US soldiers if he knew or should have known about them and failed to prevent or punish them.

Similar cases have also been filed in other states against several US Army officers, including Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, on behalf of other torture victims. Sanchez is in a similar situation to Rumsfeld, in that he personally authorised dubious interrogation techniques, not to mention hiding prisoners from the Red Cross. The other cases are more reliant on command responsibility.

These are going to be very interesting cases which will test the US's commitment to the rule of law. But while it's a first go at justice, these are only civil suits. If the actions or inactions of these officials violate US law, then they should not just be facing bankruptcy, but a prison cell.