US & Canada

'Tortured' US citizens allowed to sue Donald Rumsfeld

Donald Rumsfeld
Image caption Under President George W Bush, Donald Rumsfeld was one of the architects of the war in Iraq

Two former US security contractors may sue former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for his role in their alleged torture in Iraq, a court has ruled.

US citizens Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel said they were held for months by US troops under harsh conditions.

They said they were detained in retaliation for efforts to reveal illegal activities by their employer.

A federal appeals court on Monday ruled that former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld had no immunity in the case.

"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 Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Chicago, ruled in a 2-1 decision on Monday that upheld a decision by a lower US district court.

'Nightmarish scene'

The decision is the second this month in which US judges have ruled Mr Rumsfeld may be sued by US citizens who alleged torture in Iraq at the hands of US troops.

Last week, a US district judge in Washington ruled separately that a former American military contractor who also claims he was tortured in Iraq could sue Mr Rumsfeld.

The government said the contractor was suspected of helping pass information to the enemy, although he was never charged.

According to court records filed in the latest case, in 2005 and 2006 Mr Vance and Mr Ertel were working in Iraq for Shield Group Security, a privately-held security company, when they became suspicious the company was making improper payments to Iraqi officials in exchange for influence, and that its employees were engaged in illicit weapons-trafficking and other illegal activity.

The men began feeding information to US government officials in Iraq until, in April 2006, the company confiscated their credentials to enter the Baghdad Green Zone, effectively barring them from the safest part of the war-ravaged country, according to their court pleadings.

Then, US military personnel detained them, confiscated their belongings, handcuffed and blindfolded them and took them to a military base in Baghdad, where they were fingerprinted, strip-searched and locked in a cage.

They were then taken to Camp Cropper near Baghdad International Airport, where they "experienced a nightmarish scene in which they were detained incommunicado, in solitary confinement, and subjected to physical and psychological torture for the duration of their imprisonment - Vance for three months and Ertel for six weeks", the court wrote, reiterating the men's allegations.

'No immunity'

The men claim they were deprived of sleep, food and water, held in extremely cold cells without warm clothing, and threatened with beatings.

They were ultimately released at the Baghdad airport and were never charged or designated security risks.

"Vance and Ertel both allege that they were devastated physically and emotionally by what they endured at the hands of their own government," the court wrote.

The men later sued Mr Rumsfeld, who was secretary of defence from 2001 to November 2006 under former President George Bush, and other unnamed US officials.

In seeking to have the case dismissed, Mr Rumsfeld and the administrations of Mr Bush and current President Barack Obama argued among other things that Mr Rumsfeld had immunity for actions taken while working as defence secretary and that US citizens cannot sue for violations of their rights that occurred in war zones.

The defendants also argued the courts may not have a say in US military and detention policy.

In rejecting the request to dismiss the case, the court ruled on Monday the plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged that Mr Rumsfeld had played a personal role in authorising the harsh treatment to which they had been subjected while in US custody.

War 'second-guessed'

But the court said it remained to be seen whether Mr Rumsfeld had actually done so.

In a statement, a lawyer for Mr Rumsfeld said the decision to allow the suit "saps the effectiveness of the military, puts American soldiers at risk, and shackles federal officials who have a constitutional duty to protect America".

"Having judges second-guess the decisions made by the armed forces halfway around the world is no way to wage a war," David Rivkin said in a statement.

The US justice department could appeal against the ruling to the full panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals or to the US Supreme Court.

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