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Former Guantanamo Detainees Sue Rumsfeld Over ‘Illegalâ€TM Treatment

by Saadia Iqbal

Four British citizens once detained in the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison camp are suing several top-level Pentagon and military officials, alleging the defendants illegally held the plaintiffs and authorized their abuse.

Oct. 27, 2004 – Four men, who were formerly detained at the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay, filed a lawsuit today against numerous pentagon officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for allegedly authorizing torture and other human rights violations during their detention.

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The plaintiffs, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal Al-Harith -- all British citizens -- claim they were arbitrarily detained and suffered abuse and mistreatment while in US custody. They are each seeking $10 million in damages from those responsible in their individual capacities. This is the first case of its kind.

In addition to Secretary Rumsfeld, the suit lists Air Force General Richard Myers, Army Major General Geoffrey Miller, Army Major General Michael E. Dunleavey and other military officials as defendants.

According to a press release from the offices of Baach Robinson & Lewis, a Washington, DC law firm representing the four, the suit charges that the "Pentagon chain of command authorized and condoned torture and other mistreatment in violation of the Alien Tort Statute, the US Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."

The four men were released in March, and are now in Britain. They were never charged with a crime, and their lawyers say "none of the detainees had ever been a member of any terrorist groups or taken up arms against the United States."

Though the former detainees, if successful in their suit, would win $10 million each, Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights said the case is not about money, as far as the four plaintiffs are concerned.

Michael Ratner, president of The Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based progressive non-profit litigation organization collaborating on the lawsuit, said: "Their case is very strong in terms of what happened to them. They should not have been picked up; they were not guilty. They suffered inhumane treatment, and in terms of the facts, they have a strong case. But it’s always difficult to bring a case against US officials for wrongdoing, no matter how strong the facts are."

Nevertheless, the Pentagon denies the four were wrongly detained. "There was no mistake in originally detaining these individuals as enemy combatants," said Lieutenant Commander Alvin "Flex" Plexico, press officer at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, in an email interview. "Their detention was directly related to their combat activities as determined by an appropriate DoD official before they were ever transferred to Guantanamo."

According to Plexico, "A determination that a detainee should no longer be classified as an enemy combatant does not negate his original status. Therefore, detainees have no basis for claiming compensation for their detention from the US government."

Plexico also denied that the four had been abused while held at Guantanamo. "The United States operates a safe, humane and professional detention operation at Guantanamo that is providing valuable information in the war on terror," he said.

But in a joint statement by Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed released by the Center for Constitutional rights in August, the former detainees stated that US forces beat them, stripped them naked, sexually violated and humiliated them, deprived them of sleep, injected them with unknown drugs, kept them in cages exposed to the sun and to snakes and scorpions, deprived them of food and water for long periods, subjected them to loud music, degraded their religion and restricted their religious practice, kept them in solitary detention and interrogated them for long periods of time -- all in addition to, and possibly as means of, coercing false confessions.

The 115-page joint testimonial also provides accounts of what the three saw other detainees go through and information about a few specific detainees still being held at the base.

Alistair Hodgett, spokesperson at Amnesty International in Washington, DC, said, "Certainly the allegations [the former detainees] are making are corroborated by the testimonies of other former detainees, and also government reports of US interrogation practices."

"So the background for the case is certainly strong," Hodgett said.

Hodgett pointed out that the commission led by former secretary of defense James R. Schlesinger found mistreatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo facility as well as in Iraq and that US officials provided memoranda encouraging methods that had not previously been used by the US.

One such document is a December 2002 memorandum signed by defendant Rumsfeld, authorizing the use of various "counter-resistance techniques" at Guantanamo. In their legal filing with the court, lawyers for the former detainees reference that memo and accuse Rumsfeld of "approving numerous illegal interrogation methods, including putting detainees in ‘stress positions’ for up to four hours, forcing detainees to strip naked, intimidating detainees with dogs, interrogating them for 20 hours at a time, forcing them to wear hoods, shaving their heads and beards, keeping them in total darkness and silence, and using what was euphemistically called ‘mild, non-injurious physical contact.’"

According to Hodgett, previous detainees have not sued for damages because they have faced certain barriers. "Some prisoners were returned to countries like Afghanistan where it’s difficult to file," he said. "In some cases, they were placed in custody by countries receiving them, like in Saudi Arabia. The British citizens were released upon their return to the UK -- and not only do they know their rights, but they have resources to pursue legal avenues to win redress."

Though the former detainees, if successful in their suit, would win $10 million each, Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights said the case is not about money, as far as the four plaintiffs are concerned.

"What the young men say is that any money they make, they will not keep but will use to help other people who’ve suffered similar unlawful actions," Ratner said. "The goal is to really go after people who were involved in abusing them, including Donald Rumsfeld, [camp commander] Geoffrey Miller, and others. Ultimately we want to see Guantanamo shut down."

Robert F. Drinan, professor of international law at Georgetown University in Washington, DC said that the case is a strong one.

"I hope they prevail," he said. "I think what was done to them is in violation of international law. And international law says you may not detain anybody -- citizens or non-citizens without the right of a hearing."

Drinan added, "It may be, of course, that the US government will settle, and pay them a certain amount to avoid litigation."

Hodgett of Amnesty International said he hopes the case will lead to further investigation and transparency into who is responsible for detainees’ treatment.

"I think just that it [the case] reinforces the point that we have not gotten to questioning how the US started treating prisoners in this way," he said. "Although we’ve seen examples of lower level officers doing this -- in Abu Ghraib, for example -- there has not been full accounting at a senior level."

He added, "The case deserves serious consideration. Allegations that former prisoners have made are also very serious and should not be ignored."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Saadia Iqbal is a contributing journalist.

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