On Tuesday, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the validity of a constitutional rights claim against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for his role in the torturing and illegal imprisonment of a U.S. citizen who was working as a translator in Iraq.
This was a good decision. Released publicly yesterday morning, the case, John Doe v. Donald Rumsfeld, et al, (No. 08-cv-1902 CKK), is available here.
Out of many suits brought against Rumsfeld over the torture of detainees in Iraq, this is only the second case that has been allowed to proceed. GAP is co-counsel in this suit, along with Chicago-based civil rights law firm Loevy & Loevy.
The other case that is proceeding against Rumsfled, by the way? Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel v. Donald Rumsfeld, et al (06 C 6964). Those in the whistleblower community might remember Vance as the winner of the prestigious Ridenhour Truth-Telling Prize back in 2007, which is really one of the highest national honors a whistleblower can receive. Last year, a federal court in Chicago held in Vance that two American citizens who were also tortured while detained by U.S. forces in Iraq could bring constitutional claims against Rumsfeld. That decision is currently on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. A decision is expected soon.
But back to this ruling. In John Doe v. Rumsfeld, our client was granted anonymity by the court due to fears that his relatives could be subject to retaliation.
In November 2005, while working as a contract translator in Iraq for the Marine Corps, "Doe," an American citizen, was taken into custody as he was returning home to the United States on leave. Doe alleges that he was kidnapped by U.S. military personnel and whisked away to Camp Cropper, a U.S. military base in Iraq. The Associated Press has a nice write-up (emphasis added):
Court papers filed on [the client's] behalf say he was repeatedly abused, then suddenly released without explanation in August 2006. Two years later, he filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington arguing that Rumsfeld personally approved torturous interrogation techniques on a case-by-case basis and controlled his detention without access to courts in violation of his constitutional rights.
And later on...
The Obama administration has represented Rumsfeld through the Justice Department and argued that the former defense secretary cannot be sued personally for official conduct. The Justice Department also argued that a judge cannot review wartime decisions that are the constitutional responsibility of Congress and the president. And the department said the case could disclose sensitive information and distract from the war effort, and said the threat of liability would impede future military decisions.
But U.S. District Judge James Gwin rejected those arguments and said U.S. citizens are protected by the Constitution at home or abroad during wartime.
"The court finds no convincing reason that United States citizens in Iraq should or must lose previously declared substantive due process protections during prolonged detention in a conflict zone abroad," Gwin wrote in a ruling issued Tuesday.
To be clear, Doe was held incommunicado for nine months without charges, then released without explanation or an apology.
GAP National Security & Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack stated, "John Doe is acting as a whistleblower for all American contractors working overseas. This case will prove that Cabinet officials don't enjoy carte blanche to treat American citizens however they wish."
Attorney Mike Kanovitz of Loevy & Loevy also puts it well: "This case affects tens of thousands of American citizens who work on behalf of the United States in warzones. We are relieved that the courts are going to exercise their constitutional role of judicial review instead of giving the President a blank check when it comes to the fundamental rights of U.S. citizens. There is a clear record showing that Mr. Rumsfeld authorized the use of brutal interrogation techniques that violated our nation's constitution."
There's more coverage of the story from Politico here.