The ACLU, Human Rights First, retired military leaders, and the law firm of Lieff Cabraser Heimann and Bernstein filed the case in March 2005 on behalf of nine civilians who were detained by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

"Torture is universally prohibited but Secretary Rumsfeld and the other defendants have not been held responsible for the orders they gave and the abuse they permitted," said Guttentag.

 

Horrific abuses

 

While in US custody, the captured civilians were subjected to abuse, torture and other cruel and degrading treatment, including severe and repeated beatings, cutting with knives, sexual humiliation and assault, mock executions, death threats, and restraint in contorted and excruciating positions.

 

All of the men were released without charge.

 

"Our clients’ case is about ensuring that there’s meaningful accountability, to create an effective deterrent against future violations and to ensure the courts’ ongoing role in enforcing the law against torture," said Deborah Pearlstein, director of Human Rights First’s law and security programme.

 

"Rumsfeld is the head of the ‘cruel war machine’ which has committed many crimes"

Khalid Issa Taha, Lawyers Without Borders

"The Supreme Court has made it clear that wartime does not create a law-free zone."

 

The ACLU and Human Rights First have argued that the US constitution and international law clearly prohibit torture and require commanders to act when they know or should have known of abuses.

 

In addition to the orders they gave directly, Rumsfeld was repeatedly notified of abuse and torture at detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan by military reports, the International Red Cross and other reports and complaints by human rights organisations.

 

'Cruel war machine'

 

Rumsfeld has been personally accused for approving brutal and illegal interrogation techniques in December 2002. Those techniques included the use of 'stress positions', removal of clothing, use of dogs, and isolation and sensory deprivation.

 

Khalid Issa Taha, chairman of Lawyers Without Borders, said exclusively to Al Jazeera "it has been legally proved that Rumsfeld had ordered the torturing of defendants in the Iraqi Abu Ghraib prison".

 

Pictures of Abu Ghraib abuse shocked
the world

"The history of nations and human rights violations has never witnessed acts such as those committed by Donald Rumsfeld, the US secretary of defence," Taha said.

 

"Unfortunately, the United States has refused to prosecute him [Rumsfeld] or hold any of the Americans, working in its battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan or any other country, legally liable," he added. 

 

"Rumsfeld is the head of the 'cruel war machine' which has committed many crimes," he added.

 

Detainee deaths

 

Experts urged that allowing the federal case to proceed would not intrude into matters of military decision-making, but would reinforce the military’s interest in command responsibility.

 

Official government reports have documented many horrific abuses inflicted on detainees in US custody.

 

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation began to complain about interrogation techniques used by the military on detainees in Guantánamo in 2002. Techniques used in Guantánamo have spread to Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

Media reports have also brought many disturbing incidents to light, including the deaths of detainees in custody.