I’ve been following the small but growing number of lawsuits brought on behalf of torture victims against U.S. government officials for more than a year now,
I’ve been following the small but growing number of lawsuits brought on behalf of torture victims against U.S. government officials for more than a year now, but the opening statement in a brief filed with the Supreme Court on Monday on behalf of four British former Guantanamo prisoners may be the most eloquent statement on the issue I’ve seen yet.
While conceding that “Torture is illegal under federal law, and the United States government repudiates it”, even now the Solicitor General stops short of acknowledging that torture directed, approved and implemented by officials of the United States is so repugnant that it also violates fundamental rights; no less so when hidden from public view at Guantánamo Bay. Respondents appear willing to let the final word on torture and religious abuse at Guantánamo be that government officials can torture and abuse with impunity and will be immune from liability for doing so. Yet whether United States officials are free to engage in despicable acts in a place wholly controlled by the United States is the pre-eminent constitutional issue of our time, and it is squarely presented to this Court for decision in this case.
Rasul v. Rumsfeld, as I’ve explained before, is one of the first lawsuits brought by victims of the Bush administration’s torture and abuse policies. The plaintiffs claim they were in Afghanistan to do humanitarian relief work when they were captured by the Northern Alliance and turned over (or sold for bounty) to U.S. authorities. They were eventually shipped to Guantanamo Bay, where they were imprisoned in cages and, they claim, tortured and humiliated, forced to shave their beards and watch their Korans desecrated. All of these claims are backed up by the legal memos that have since been produced from the Department of Justice that authorized such techniques as part of “enhanced” interrogations. The men were returned home to the UK without charge in 2004.
Many other victims of the Bush administration’s abuse policies have been precluded from suing because in 2006, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, which stripped the federal courts of jurisdiction over claims challenging the “detention, transfer, treatment, or conditions of confinement” of detainees who were considered “enemy combatants” by the U.S. military and detained abroad. (That provision of the law is being challenged in another lawsuit filed recently, which I describe here.) The plaintiffs in the Rasul case, however, were never even deemed “enemy combatants” by the U.S. military.
Still, the Obama administration is arguing, as it is in other cases, that it was not clear that foreigners picked up in Afghanistan and sent to Guantanamo Bay had a right not to be tortured by the U.S. government. But more than that, it’s arguing — as the lawyers in the Rasul case emphasize in the excerpt from their brief I quoted above — that there is no right under the Constitution not to be tortured at Guantanamo Bay, or at any offshore American-run prison.
As the Department of Justice recently wrote in another torture case: The “Fifth and Eighth Amendments do not extend to Guantánamo Bay detainees.”
In other words, it’s not just that former detainees can’t sue Bush administration officials for torture because the law wasn’t clear back in 2002 or 2003, but the Obama administration is arguing also that there is no fundamental right not to be tortured, and therefore any government official in the future could similarly claim to be immune from a lawsuit for torture.
Eric Lewis and the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represent the four British men in the Rasul case, are now pleading with the U.S. Supreme Court to say it isn’t so, and accept their appeal from a D.C. Circuit Court ruling that dismissed the case.
The government seeks “to leave the law unsettled and to pull a cloak of immunity, now and in the future, over government torturers,” they write in their brief.
It is essential that this Court lay down a strong and clear message that officially ordered torture is abhorrent and always a violation of fundamental rights. Without this Court’s guidance, the court of appeals’ studied indifference to the torture of Guantanamo detainees remains the final word on the issue and, indeed, could provide further cover for a claim of qualified immunity in the future in the unfortunate event that the specter of torture recurs.
Giffords shooting leads nation to introspection and political finger wagging
In the wake of the shooting in Arizona this weekend that critically injured Rep.
EPA Administrator Addresses Concerns About Oil Spill Waste Management
At a hearing of the national oil spill commission today, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson addressed concerns about waste disposal from
E-Verify Mandate Begins Today
The Obama administration today begins implementation of a new mandate to require all federal contractors to check the legal status of their employees to confirm
EPA administrator defends allowing Florida to write its own water pollution rules
The EPA seal (Pic via sentryjournal.com) The Environmental Protection Agency has come under fire for its decision to allow the state of Florida to write its own water pollution rules (known as “numeric nutrient criteria”). EPA Regional Administrator Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming is now firing back, writing that the Agency commends the state Department of Environmental Protection for its draft of a proposed standard. A host of environmental groups filed suit in 2008, seeking to compel the EPA to implement a strict set of water pollution standards in Florida, arguing that the state was in violation of the Clean Water Act.
EPA administrator fires back at critics in op-ed
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (Pic by USACEpublicaffairs, via Flickr) EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson penned a new op-ed for the Los Angeles Times , criticizing House Republicans desperately seeking to undermine the authority of the agency they have dubbed a “job killer.” Arguing that the environment affects red states and blue states alike, Jackson writes that “it is time for House Republicans to stop politicizing our air and water.” As head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Jackson has faced harsh criticism from House Republicans and GOP presidential candidates who say the agency’s regulations are an undue burden on businesses that have to cut jobs simply to comply with clean water and air rules. Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann has pledged to end the EPA if she takes office. “Since the beginning of this year, Republicans in the House have averaged roughly a vote every day the chamber has been in session to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency and our nation’s environmental laws,” writes Jackson.
EPA administrator says federal nutrient criteria is a ‘myth’
In testimony given late last week, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that false accusations about her agency’s numeric nutrient criteria to govern Florida waterways are proving to be a detriment to their implementation. # Testifying before the House Agriculture Committee, Jackson said her agency’s work was often “mischaracterized” and addressed several myths surrounding its work
EPA announces hold on nutrient standards if Florida can come up with own criteria
The EPA announced today that it is now prepared to withdraw a portion of its proposed numeric nutrient criteria (a set of standards governing water pollution in inland waters) and delay the portion related to estuarine waters, to allow the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop its own criteria. # From a statement released by the EPA earlier today: # EPA recognizes that states have the primary role in establishing and implementing water quality standards for their waters. Therefore, EPA is prepared to withdraw the federal inland standards and delay the estuarine standards if FDEP adopts, and EPA approves, their own protective and scientifically sound numeric standards
EPA Analysis Says Climate Bill’s Cost for Households Would Be ‘Modest’
All the attention on the energy front today is going to the BP spill, but the Environmental Protection Agency quietly released its long-anticipated analysis of
EPA and California Near Deal on Fuel Efficiency Standards
Two weeks ago, the Obama administration raised fuel efficiency standards by an average of two miles per gallon -- a modest change that disappointed some