WASHINGTON -- May 6 -- Baach Robinson & Lewis, a leading Washington litigation firm, challenged the governments claim that the Secretary of Defense and the Pentagon chain of command were acting within the scope of their employment when they ordered and carried out torture of four British prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.
In a 55-page filing, the firms lawyers accuse the government of trying to have it both ways, claiming publicly to abjure torture and then providing a free pass to those in the chain of command who approve and authorize torture.
It can never be within the scope of a government employees duties to torture people, the brief argued.
The suit, filed last fall in conjunction with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, seeks $10 million in damages for the detainees, who have been released. It charges that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon chain of command authorized and condoned torture and other mistreatment in violation of the Alien Tort Statute, the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
None of the detainees had ever been a member of any terrorist group or taken up arms against the United States.
The government has sought to dismiss the case, claiming that the named government officials are immune from suit because they were acting within the scope of their employment and were not violating any clearly established legal rights because they believed that detainees in Guantánamo had no legal rights. The case is pending before Judge Ricardo Urbina of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
Secretary Rumsfeld and the other defendants in the military chain of command could not have been in any doubt that ordering torture violates clearly established rights, the brief added. Defendants argument that they thought they could torture people in Guantánamo because they thought it was a lawless enclave
is repugnant and legally untenable.
This is a case about torture, said Eric Lewis, lead lawyer for the detainees. The government tries to ignore this, but it is clear now beyond dispute that detainees were tortured at Guantánamo as part of a deliberate policy devised and implemented by Secretary Rumsfeld and senior generals. If the United States policy is against tortureand the President says it isthen senior officials must be held accountable. Torture is not all in a days work.
Barbara Olshansky, Director Counsel of the Center for Constitutional Rights Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative, said, CCR hopes this suit will remind the U.S. government that the law, domestic and international, does not permit torture in times of peace or in times of war. The U.S. joined with the other nations of the world in signing the Geneva Conventions specifically to ensure that society would never revert to the level of barbarism seen in the Second World War. Where has our commitment to this promise gone?
Remarkably, even though the allegations of torture form the basis for the suit, the governments document entirely avoids the use of the word tortureeven as they try to claim that the government disavows the practice.
Rasul v. Rumsfeld represents four British citizens formerly detained at Guantánamo Bay: Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal Al-Harith. Three of the plaintiffs wrote a 115-page document detailing the torture and abuse they suffered and witnessed while imprisoned at Guantánamo, and it can be downloaded from the Center for Constitutional Rights web site at www.ccr-ny.org.
For a copy of the filing, contact Paul Hughes at Baach Robinson & Lewis