WASHINGTON – A panel of federal appeals court judges expressed doubts Thursday that former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and three former military officers can be sued for allegedly allowing torture in U.S. military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In courtroom arguments, two of the three judges were skeptical that Rumsfeld and three U.S. military officials could face damage claims for exercising command responsibility over subordinates accused of torturing prisoners. Nine prisoners have filed suit.
"You are turning two centuries of Supreme Court jurisprudence on its ear," David Sentelle, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, told an attorney for the detainees.
Sentelle and Judge Harry Edwards suggested that the defendants should be immune from the suit because it wasn't clear that the U.S. Constitution applied overseas when the detainees say they were tortured.
Rumsfeld and the officers shouldn't be allowed to escape accountability, Cecillia Wang, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney for the prsioners, told the judges.
There is no question that Rumsfeld knew that permitting torture violates the U.S. Constitution and he should have to answer the accusations in the lawsuit, said Wang.
Sentelle was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and Edwards by President Jimmy Carter. Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, who did not ask questions during the argument, was appointed by President George H.W. Bush.
A lower court judge held that Rumsfeld cannot be held personally responsible for actions taken in connection with his government job. The prisoners are asking the appeals court to reinstate their lawsuit.
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