While the Obama administration has been soft on pursuing justice for victims of Bush-era human rights violations, it's at least comforting to know that the US court system is picking up a teensy bit of the slack. On Monday, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 2-1 decision that a civil lawsuit brought by two American men against Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the US government alleges sufficient evidence to proceed.
Plaintiffs Nathan Ertel and Donald Vance, who had been working as security contractors for Shield Group Security in Iraq, claim that they were unjustly detained and subjected to psychological and physical torture shortly after they started to suspect that their company was engaging in bribery and weapons trafficking. BBC News reports:
The men began feeding information [regarding the alleged corruption] to US government officials in Iraq until, in April 2006, the company confiscated their credentials to enter the Baghdad Green Zone…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…torture for the duration of their imprisonment - Vance for three months and Ertel for six weeks", the court wrote, reiterating the men's allegations.
The decision [PDF] stated that command responsibility does in fact apply to top-ranking government officials in times of war, and that there was enough of a case to hold the former defense secretary, not just individual soldiers or the military commanders, accountable.
Here's an excerpt from the court documents (emphasis my own):
The plaintiffs allege that Secretary Rumsfeld then directed that the techniques in place at Guantanamo Bay also be extended to Iraq. The plaintiffs claim, for instance, that Secretary Rumsfeld sent Major General Geoffrey Miller to Iraq in August 2003 to evaluate how prisons could gain more "actionable intelligence" from detainees. In September 2003, in response to General Miller’s suggestion to use more aggressive interrogation policies in Iraq, and as allegedly "directed, approved and sanctioned" by Secretary Rumsfeld, the commander of the United States-led military coalition in Iraq signed a memorandum authorizing the use of 29 interrogation techniques (the "Iraq List"), which included sensory deprivation, light control, and the use of loud music.
Having judges second-guess the decisions made by the armed forces halfway around the world is no way to wage a war...It saps the effectiveness of the military, puts American soldiers at risk, and shackles federal officials who have a constitutional duty to protect America.