In A Blow To The Rule Of Law, Court Dismisses Lawsuit To Hold Former Government Officials Accountable For Torture Of Jose Padilla

February 17, 2011 4:58 pm

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Torture Crimes Must Not Go Unpunished, Says ACLU

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CHARLESTON, SC – A federal court today dismissed an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other current and former government officials for their roles in the unlawful detention and torture of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla. In a troubling 32-page ruling, South Carolina federal judge Richard Mark Gergel held that Padilla had no right to sue for constitutional violations, and that Rumsfeld and the other defendants “are entitled to qualified immunity regarding all claims of alleged constitutional violations arising out of Padilla’s detention as an enemy combatant.”

“The court today held that Donald Rumsfeld is above the law and Jose Padilla is beneath it,” said Ben Wizner, Litigation Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “But if the law does not protect Jose Padilla, it protects none of us, and the executive branch can simply label citizens enemies of the state and strip them of all rights—including the absolute right not to be tortured. If Jose Padilla is not allowed his day in court, nothing will prevent future administrations from engaging in similar abuses.”

Padilla was seized from a U.S. jail in 2002, declared an “enemy combatant” and secretly transported to a military brig in South Carolina. He was imprisoned for nearly four years, during which he was subjected to extreme abuse and was unable to communicate with his lawyers or family for two years. The Bush administration sought to justify his detention and harsh interrogation methods in part by claiming Padilla was plotting with al-Qaeda to detonate a radiological “dirty bomb” in a U.S. city, but no evidence of such a plot has been presented in court.

In February 2007, Padilla filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina against Rumsfeld, Catherine Hanft, William Haynes II, Lowell Jacoby, Melanie Marr and Paul Wolfowitz for their role in his unlawful detention and abuse. In August 2008, the government filed a motion to dismiss the case. The ACLU was recently retained to represent Jose Padilla and his mother and argued that their lawsuit against Rumsfeld and other officials should not be thrown out.

Attorneys on the case are considering next steps.

Attorneys on the case are Wizner and Alex Abdo of the ACLU; Jonathan Freiman, Hope Metcalf and Tahlia Townsend of the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School; and Michael O’Connell of the law firm Stirling & O’Connell.

More information about the case is available online at:

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