Obama Justice Department Urges Dismissal of Another Torture Case

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Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 6:46 pm

In another move that suggests the Obama Department of Justice is not making many big policy breaks with its predecessor when it comes to the legal rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees, the department filed a brief renewing the government’s motion to dismiss the case of Rasul v. Rumsfeld.

The case is very similar to the lawsuit filed by U.S. citizen and former enemy combatant Jose Padilla against former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, which I’ve been following. The plaintiffs in Rasul v. Rumsfeld allege that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior Bush officials are responsible for their torture; prolonged arbitrary detention; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; cruel and unusual punishment; denial of liberties without due process, and preventing the exercise and expression of their religious beliefs.

According to their legal complaint, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed claim they traveled to Afghanistan in October 2001 to offer humanitarian relief to civilians. In late November, they were kidnapped by Rashid Dostum, the Uzbeki warlord and leader of the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance. He turned them over to U.S. custody – apparently for bounty money that American officials were paying for suspected terrorists. In December, without any independent evidence that the men had engaged in hostilities against the United States, U.S. officials sent them to Guantanamo Bay. Over the next two years, they claim — as does a fourth British man — that they were imprisoned in cages, tortured and humiliated, forced to shave their beards and watch their Korans desecrated, until they were returned to Britain in 2004. None were ever charged with a crime.

Dismissed at the urging of the Bush administration, the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In December, the case was sent back to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington for reconsideration, because the Supreme Court had ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that Guantanamo detainees have the right to challenge their detentions. It wasn’t clear what effect that ruling might have on the Rasul case.

Although some civil rights lawyers had hoped the Obama administration would change the government’s position — or at least try to settle this case, which is at the very least an embarrassment to the United States –  the former prisoners had no such luck. Today, the Justice Department filed a brief arguing, as it did in Padilla’s case against Yoo, that government officials are not liable for torture, abuse, denial of due process or religious rights, because the right of Guantanamo prisoners not to suffer those abuses at the hands of the U.S. government was not clearly established at the time.

That would seem to contradict previous statements by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder that torture (including waterboarding) and other abuses are clearly illegal, now and always, and that the president can’t simply override that prohibition. It also may discourage those who are hoping the president will eventually support prosecutions of former Bush officials for exactly those crimes.

Reached today, the lead lawyer on the case, Eric Lewis, a partner at the Washington-based law firm, Baach Robinson & Lewis, said he was “disappointed” but “not surprised.”

However, as I’ve pointed out before in the context of the Yoo case, the defense does raise some serious questions about whether the Obama Justice Department really ought to be defending Donald Rumsfeld and his former colleagues in this case at all.

I’ll be writing more about this case and others like it, as well as their implications, in the coming week.

Comments

33 Comments

Psyche, Science, and Society » Obama DOJ arguing torture is not always illegal
Pingback posted March 12, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

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Gus Smith
Comment posted March 12, 2009 @ 9:38 pm

This Obama justice department is hard to figure. Almost seems like Bush in that red is black and left is right twist on reality. Perhaps an explanation will come from Holder telling us why he and Obama are so closed to the concept that maybe Gitmo was populated with some number of fingered people.


Shintao
Comment posted March 12, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

I am extremely disappointed in Obama INC. working towards coddeling American War criminals at the expense of Liberty & Justice. Not that he is any worse than the previous Administration, but that he is not any better.


Shintao
Comment posted March 12, 2009 @ 9:54 pm

I don't see how any other explanation can be forthcoming. The British detainee was tortured unmercifully and cut with razor blades. Oer 100 detainees have died in capitivity, at least 26 of the them were tortured to death according to the US Military Doctor autopsies & us guard witnesses that described hanging the detainees by their ankles and beating them to death with clubs. We are signatory to the geneva Conventions that call these War Crimes, that the United States itself as tried Japanese guards for the same crimes. To suggest that “the U.S. government was not clearly established at the time” tells me these are mock courts of justice to explain away the travesty of Bush INC., from murder, torture, and now even assassination squads directed by Bush, is beyond comprehension and the most unAmerican insult and travesity I ever heard of. As a VN combat veteran I am appalled and ashamb.


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Comment posted March 13, 2009 @ 8:31 am

Shintao-I can not find any words to better express my dissapointment at the Obama Justice Dept. Thank you


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Hawaiian style
Comment posted March 14, 2009 @ 10:30 am

How in the world does anyone claim that waterboarding in Guantanamo was not a crime. We prosecuted WWII people for waterboarding as a crime in the war criminal trials after WWII???!!!.

It appears that the Obama administration is setting itself up to be safe from war crimes prosecutions by using these decisions as legal precedents???


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John Mansfield
Comment posted March 27, 2009 @ 9:56 am

i was in guantanomo bay for a while the guards rape you and give you cock meat sandwiches….i kind of liked it though and i got used to it becasue my dad always treated me like this


John Mansfield
Comment posted March 27, 2009 @ 4:56 pm

i was in guantanomo bay for a while the guards rape you and give you cock meat sandwiches….i kind of liked it though and i got used to it becasue my dad always treated me like this


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Hawaiianstyle
Comment posted December 14, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

Its amazing how two old saws seem to keep coming true…

The more things change the more they stay the same.

Your actions speak so loud I can't hear your words.

President Obama I saw you graded your job performance so far as a B+

That grade would be accurate if you were speaking of your courting the international fame and favor stuff. It certainly is not if you were considering the furtherance of Justice, no man is above the law, we are a nation of laws type stuff.

And land mines, domestic spying, reinstating the Constitution, enforcing FISA, parallel justice systems, government transparency, the government secrets defense, reducing war, ignoring the abuses of “private contractors” (mercenaries), helping the unemployed tax payer that is paying for big business and wall street excesses, putting your prestige and political capital on the line for health care….ad nauseum

AUWE brah fo shame…


Hawaiianstyle
Comment posted December 14, 2009 @ 6:26 pm

Its amazing how two old saws seem to keep coming true…

The more things change the more they stay the same.

Your actions speak so loud I can't hear your words.

President Obama I saw you graded your job performance so far as a B+

That grade would be accurate if you were speaking of your courting the international fame and favor stuff. It certainly is not if you were considering the furtherance of Justice, no man is above the law, we are a nation of laws type stuff.

And land mines, domestic spying, reinstating the Constitution, enforcing FISA, parallel justice systems, government transparency, the government secrets defense, reducing war, ignoring the abuses of “private contractors” (mercenaries), helping the unemployed tax payer that is paying for big business and wall street excesses, putting your prestige and political capital on the line for health care….ad nauseum

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