For Immediate Release: August 9, 2011
Washington, DC – Human Rights First today said Monday’s 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to allow two U.S. citizens alleging torture to proceed with their civil suit against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld marks a significant step forward in the effort to give victims of post-9/11 torture and abuse their day in court. The 7th Circuit’s decision comes less than a week after the U.S. District Court in Washington ruled to allow a similar torture lawsuit against Rumsfeld to move forward.
“While the United States government has failed to live up to its legal and moral obligation to provide remedies for so many victims of U.S. sponsored torture, these two cases demonstrate that holding officials accountable in U.S. courts remains a possibility,” said Human Rights First’s Melina Milazzo. “These victims deserve to have their cases heard and to have the opportunity to confront the individuals they believe were responsible for creating an environment where torture was acceptable.”
Milazzo notes that under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the United States must provide “enforceable” or “effective” remedies to victims for acts of torture and serious abuse. Until now, the U.S. government was successful in getting courts to throw out similar torture related lawsuits by arguing that officials like Rumsfeld have immunity and that judicial doctrines effectively shield U.S. officials from being held accountable for egregious acts of torture and official abuse.
“As Judge Hamilton rightfully stated in the majority’s opinion, ‘United States law provides a civil damages remedy for aliens who are tortured by their own governments. It would be startling and unprecedented to conclude that the United States would not provide such a remedy to its own citizens.’ When it comes to torture, nobody should be above the law,” concluded Milazzo.