In March 2007, the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a historic lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights First, charging Donald Rumsfeld and other military leaders as responsible for the torture of various detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq. The case was Ali v. Rumsfeld, and it was not the only one of its kind. Other notable cases included El-Masri v. Tenet and Padilla v. Rumsfeld. Unfortunately, these cases faced great difficulties in their defense of torture victims and were resolutely dismissed.
Just this week, in response to the US government’s failure to investigate and prosecute American officials for the torture of detainees in US confinement abroad, the ACLU filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) against the US on behalf of six torture victims of the US military—three Iraqis and three Afghans. As explained by the ACLU,
The petition is the equivalent of an international legal complaint. It asks the commission, an independent human rights body of the Organization of American States, to conduct a full investigation into the human rights violations and seeks an apology on behalf of the six men from the U.S. government.
Considering the absence of a US judicial and legal framework that addresses such human rights violations, the petitioners and the ACLU decided to bring the case to the international arena. As Steven Watt, senior staff attorney with the ACLU, points out, “No high-ranking government officials have yet been held to account for their actions, and this petition seeks to do just that and to ensure that the government respects basic human rights, including the right of everyone to be free from torture and inhumane treatment.”
Coupled with the release of the petition, the ACLU published a document outlining the extent of the torture and abuse suffered by the six petitioners. The document details what we can unfortunately assume is only a “summary” of the “victims’ abuse.”
The ACLU noted that the Ali v. Rumsfeld case was dismissed in part because “American officials were immune from lawsuits stemming from actions taken ‘within the scope of their official duties.’” So torture is now in the scope of US authorities’ official duties?