Our country is one that safeguards human rights and human dignity. . . . I live in a transparent country . . . where decisions made by government are wide-open. George W. Bush, in Slovakia, February 24, 2005
In order to fight a new war against terrorism, the U.S. government would often need to work “quietly” and “without any discussion,” and would “use any means at our disposal” and “work through, sort of, the dark side.” “America’s Extraordinary Tolerance for Torture,” Salon, February 11, 2005, paraphrasing and quoting Vice President Dick Cheney from his appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, September 16, 2001
On March 1, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First filed a historic lawsuit, Ali et al. v. Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense of the United States of America, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (the defendant’s home state).
In all forms of media, there has been minimal coverage of the very existence of this legal action, and even less of the precisely documented charges, including the defendant’s violations of American and international laws and the consequences of his continuing lawlessness.
The ACLU claims that, “Along with his subordinates, Secretary Rumsfeld authorized, ratified and failed to stop the unlawful treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. Secretary Rumsfeld had the power to formulate policies relating to the treatment and interrogation of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, was directly and personally involved in setting interrogation rules, and exercised his power to allow illegal practices, namely, the torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. . . .
“[Rumsfeld] knew that his subordinates were torturing detainees in U.S. custody and violated his duty as a commander to punish the perpetrators or otherwise prevent further acts of torture.”
The lawsuit states: “Defendant Rumsfeld has not been held accountable for his acts, omissions and failures of command. To this day, Plaintiff victims of Rumsfeld’s policies, practices, patterns and actions have received no redress for their injuries.” (Emphasis added.)
The eight plaintiffs in the suit were imprisoned in the U.S. detention centers in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is the story of the lead plaintiff, Arkan Mohammed Ali, 26 years old. For 11 months, July 2003 through June 2004, he was held at various locations in Iraq, including the Abu Ghraib prison. These are some—not all—of the “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments” he received:
“Beating him into unconsciousness during interrogations, using hands, feet, chains and weapons . . . repeatedly locking [him] for several days in a wooden coffin-like box, sometimes after stripping him naked and tying a hood over his head; urinating on [him] intentionally to humiliate and degrade him;
“Detaining [him] in a ‘silent tent’ for days at a time, during which he was denied sleep and dragged face-down along the ground and severely beaten by soldiers whenever it appeared he might be falling asleep; subjecting [him] to multiple death threats, including . . . threats to transfer him to Guantánamo where he was told soldiers could kill detainees with impunity . . . approaching [him] with a sword and threatening to slaughter him . . . denying [him] food and water for long periods.”
Like the seven other plaintiffs, Ali was finally released without charges, but was threatened “by [a U.S. official] specifically telling him that if he ever reported or discussed the abuse he and others suffered in detention, the U.S. government would find him and he would never see his family again . . . ”
From what the president has assured are “humane” conditions, Ali presently suffers “pain in the kidneys, colon and urinary tract . . . severe scars on his arm from stabbing and burning . . . severe depression, frequent severe nightmares . . . .
“As a result of his continuing injuries, Plaintiff Arkan M. Ali has been unable to maintain employment and his personal relationships with his family and others have deteriorated.”
The lawsuit against defendant Rumsfeld emphasizes that in 1999, this country, in its initial report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, declared that:
“No official of the [U.S.] government, federal or state, civilian or military, is authorized to commit or to instruct anyone else to commit torture.
“Nor may any official condone or tolerate torture in any form. No exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification of torture. United States law contains no provision permitting otherwise prohibited acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to be employed on ground[s] of exigent circumstances . . . ” (Emphasis added.)
This lawsuit against Rumsfeld also quotes the U.S. Army Field Manual 34-52, which unequivocally states that U.S. policy and binding international treaties “expressly prohibit acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to inhumane treatment as a means of or aid to interrogation. Such illegal acts are not authorized and will not be condoned by the U.S. Army.” (Emphasis added.)
The army manual also forbids “forcing an individual to stand, sit or kneel in abnormal positions for prolonged periods of time” and “any form of beating.”
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is the head of the chain of command of the U.S. Army, and his commander in chief is George W. Bush, who, in a secret, still classified directive soon after 9-11, authorized the CIA to send suspected terrorists to countries known for torturing prisoners. Democratic congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts has demanded that the president declassify this directive that clearly violates both U.S. law and treaties this country has signed. According to our rule of law, why are Rumsfeld and Bush not being subpoenaed by Congress to account for their unabated lawlessness?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 15, 2005