No Comment — March 13, 2009, 9:32 am

Standing Firm for Injustice

The Obama Justice Department yesterday again embraced a position of the Bush Administration that Senator Obama appeared to have criticized on the campaign trail. Daphne Eviatar reports in the Washington Independent that:

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.

Their case was previously dismissed on the grounds that Guantánamo detainees (which these individuals are not, they have been released) have no due process rights. Of course, the Supreme Court rejected that view in Boumediene v. Bush, in which it concluded that Guantánamo detainees at least have some rights to challenge their detentions. The matter was sent back to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration.

The Obama Justice Department has adopted the arguments and positions of the Bush team, however. It continues, even in the face of Boumediene, to argue that the detainees have no due process rights; it also argues extensively that Donald Rumsfeld has complete immunity from claims that he was the engineer of torture and mistreatment of the prisoners.

The Justice Department has two transparent objectives in this case. One is to avoid further disclosure of the embarrassing facts surrounding the seizure and detention of the plaintiffs. This was one of dozens of cases in which American officials were hoodwinked by petty Afghan warlords out for a bounty payment, turning over prisoners who had no ostensible connection to the Taliban or Al Qaeda. The second is to keep the illegal practices in Gitmo—including violations of the Geneva Conventions, detailed in their complaint, and torture—under wraps. In embracing the idol of immunity, however, the Obama team is squarely repudiating its obligations under international law. As I note in an article published today in The National, the United States clearly and unequivocally committed itself to launching a criminal investigation of allegations of torture and to providing a path for the compensation of victims of torture. That obligation could be met by providing another channel for compensation, of course, but failing to do so, it is wrong to close the doors of the courts to such claims. Instead of discharging their duty, however, the Justice Department is repudiating it by working to sweep credible allegations of torture under the carpet and by closing the door to any potential claims—in other words, it is systematically obstructing justice.

We should note that the charges linking Donald Rumsfeld to the regime of torture practiced at Guantánamo are anything but far fetched. It’s not just that the torture occurred on his watch. He’s responsible for it. In fact, Susan J. Crawford, the Bush Administration’s seniormost official responsible for detainee cases, reached a formal conclusion that torture occurred. The specific case she has publicly discussed was also, according to the testimony of Lieutenant General Mark Schmitt, overseen and authorized by Donald Rumsfeld personally. Moreover, Rumsfeld’s direct engagement in the process not only of policy making but also oversight over high-value detainees at Guantánamo is documented in Philippe Sands’s book The Torture Team.

Robert H. Jackson, America’s greatest attorney general, called the use of immunity notions to block accountability for the mistreatment of prisoners in wartime an uncivilized practice and committed that it could not stand. He went one step beyond this. America, he committed in his most famous oration, would “press this chalice to its own lips”–namely would agree to hold its own officials accountable by the same standards and rules it advocated at the end of World War II. The Obama Justice Department is working hard to make Attorney General Jackson into a liar. It is also destroying the credibility of President Obama’s commitment to abide by international law.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

No Comment November 4, 2013, 5:17 pm

The Torture Doctors

An expert panel concludes that the Pentagon and the CIA ordered physicians to violate the Hippocratic Oath

No Comment August 12, 2013, 7:55 am

Obama’s Snowden Dilemma

How will the Obama Administration handle Edward Snowden’s case in the long term?

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $34.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2014

50,000 Life Coaches Can’t Be Wrong

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quinoa Quarrel

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

You Had to Be There

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Study in Sherlock

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“In Thunupa’s footsteps grew a miraculous plant that could withstand drought, cold, and even salt, and still produce a nutritious grain.”
Photograph by Lisa M. Hamilton
Article
A Study in Sherlock·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is central to the pleasure of the Sherlock Holmes stories that they invite play, and that they were never meant to be taken seriously.”
Illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele
Post
My Top 5 Metal Albums and Their Poetic Counterparts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“1. Death, The Sound of Perseverance (Nuclear Blast, 1998)”
Photograph (detail) by Peter Beste
Article
Found Money·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I have spent my entire adult existence in a recession. Like most people I talk to, I assume the forces that control the market are at best random and at worst rigged. The auction shows only confirm that suspicion.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Post
The School of Permanent Revolución·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The University of Venezuela has provided a consistent counterweight to governmental authority, but it has also reliably produced the elite of whatever group replaced the status quo.”
Photograph © Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez

Percentage of non-Christian Americans who say they believe in the resurrection of Christ:

52

A newly translated Coptic text alleged Judas’ kiss to have been necessitated by Jesus’ ability to shape-shift.

Russia reportedly dropped a series of math texts from a list of recommended curricular books because its illustrations featured too many non-Russian characters. “Gnomes, Snow White,” said a Russian education expert, “these are representatives of a foreign-language culture.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST