(CN) – A U.S. citizen and Army veteran who says he was imprisoned and tortured by his own military can sue former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld personally for damages, a federal judge ruled.
Court filings do not name the veteran, but note that he worked for the Marine Corps as an Arabic translator along Iraq’s Syrian border.
He claims he was the first American to begin direct talks with Sunni sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, who later became an important U.S. ally.
In November 2005, as he prepared to return home on leave, the man said he was taken into an interrogation room for four hours. He refused to answer the questions, citing concern for the confidentiality of sensitive information he had learned during his tour.
He was transported to Camp Cropper military jail for “high-value” detainees and kept for more than nine months. His family had no idea of his whereabouts or whether he was alive.
John Doe said interrogators exposed him to extreme cold and continuous bright light. They also allegedly blindfolded and hooded him, kept him awake by banging on the door and windows, and blasted heavy metal or country music into his cell at “intolerably loud volumes.”
Doe said he also sustained physical attacks from other detainees hostile to the United States because they learned about his military affiliation.
Though the government claimed he had provided classified information to the enemy and helping anti-coalition forces enter the country, he was never charged with a crime.
A detainee status board authorized the translator’s continued detention in December 2005, determining that he was a threat to coalition forces. Doe never got to talk to a lawyer and was not permitted to see the evidence against him.
In August 2006, Doe was placed on a military flight to Jordan and eventually made it back home. U.S. District Judge James Gwin, presiding in Washington by designation from his court in Ohio, found that Doe clearly has a civil rights case.
“The stakes in holding detainees at Camp Cropper may have been high, but one purpose of the constitutional limitations on interrogation techniques and conditions of confinement even domestically is to strike a balance between government objectives and individual rights even when the stakes are high,” Gwin wrote.
Rumsfeld argued that court intervention would improperly allow the court to review wartime matters and foreign affair constitutionally committed to the president and Congress.
But Gwin rejected this argument.
“Avoiding the ‘risk of assuming a role that is almost always best suited for Congress,’ however, does not recommend that courts be entirely powerless to review legislative or executive action during a time of war,” he wrote. “Rather, ‘a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.'”
Rumsfeld also cannot dodge the suit on qualified immunity grounds, Gwin said.
“Although it may be unlikely that Rumsfeld evaluated the detention conditions of each detainee in detail, it is not implausible that he authorized the use of interrogation techniques on the detainee population at Camp Cropper, or even on specific detainees,” the 47-page ruling states. “Though Doe must eventually support his factual allegations with evidence, a motion to dismiss simply calls upon the court to evaluate whether a plaintiff has alleged with specificity fact supporting a plausible claim.”
“This case affects tens of thousands of American citizens who work on behalf of the United States in warzones,” Doe’s attorney, Mike Kanovitz, told the Government Accountability Project. “We are relieved that the courts are going to exercise their constitutional role of judicial review instead of giving the president a blank check when it comes to the fundamental rights of U.S. citizens. There is a clear record showing that Mr. Rumsfeld authorized the use of brutal interrogation techniques that violated our nation’s constitution. Like all Americans, my clients just want a level playing field and a fair jury. Now they are going to get that.”
Doe’s suit is one of just two that has been allowed to proceed of the many against Rumsfeld alleging torture of detainees in Iraq.
Last year, two Americans filed suit claiming they were tortured following accusations of illegal activities by their company. A Chicago federal judge allowed them to hold Rumsfeld personally responsible for the torture. The 7th Circuit is expected to rule on the case soon.