Civil Rights

Judge OK's Torture Suit Against Rumsfeld

A federal judge from the Northern District of Illinois has allowed a suit filed by two former U.S. workers for an Iraq-owned security firm against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to proceed.

Two of the men’s three counts were dismissed, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog reported. But Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel are allowed to proceed with their case alleging that they were unconstitutionally tortured under procedures approved by Rumsfeld.

Vance and Ertel, who worked for Shield Group Security, said they saw agents of their employer making payments to “certain Iraqi sheiks” and dealing in armaments, the opinion (PDF provided by Law Blog) said. Vance contacted the FBI with his suspicions, of which Ertel was aware.

The men say in their complaint that they were eventually taken to the U.S. Embassy and questioned, then later moved in to prolonged solitary confinement at Camp Cropper near Baghdad, where they were subject to sleep and food deprivation, threats of violence and actual violence.

“Decisions by the secretary of defense in the context of an ongoing conflict are undoubtedly difficult ones that shouldn’t be called into question each time a constitutional violation is alleged,” U.S. District Judge Wayne R. Andersen wrote. “However, it is equally true and important that American citizens must not be denied the opportunity to challenge genuine mistreatment at the hands of a government official simply because that official is tasked with difficult and extremely important decisions.”

Andersen wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Ashcroft v. Iqbal (PDF) decision, in which former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft qualified immunity, is not “a categorical bar on claims against these officials.” Andersen assessed the plaintiffs’ claims were not merely speculative and that they were entitled to have their claim survive.

Vance and Ertel are seeking unspecified punitive damages, Daily Finance reported. Their lawyer, Mike Kanovitz of Chicago’s Loevy & Loevy, told the National Law Journal that the decision is “pretty historic.” Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller told the publication that the department is reviewing the decision.

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