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DOJ asks court to dismiss detainee torture lawsuit against Rumsfeld

[JURIST] US government lawyers on Monday asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit [PDF complaint; JURIST report] filed by two rights groups against US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld [official profile] over detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First [advocacy websites] filed the suit on behalf of nine former detainees [ACLU profiles], alleging that Rumsfeld and other top military officials bear direct responsibility for torture and abuse committed by US personnel and their actions violate the US Constitution and international law.

In its motion to dismiss [PDF text], the DOJ argues that Rumsfeld is entitled to immunity under the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988, 28 US Code 2679 [text; DOJ backgrounder], barring civil lawsuits against federal officials for conduct performed within the scope of employment. At issue in the case is a 2002 memo [text] signed by Rumsfeld which authorizes interrogation techniques for detainees, including "stress positions," 20-hour interrogations, use of dogs, and prolonged isolation. Though the DOJ argues that the memo was within Rumsfeld's scope of employment, HRF lawyer Deborah Pearlstein criticized the argument [press release], saying that "the Secretary's position that ordering torture was 'within the scope of his employment' is a stunning abdication of the responsibility of command." The DOJ also argued that the court does not have jurisdiction to hear cases seeking money damages for alleged violations of international law. The ACLU provides additional background on the case, including an overview of the legal basis of the claims. Reuters has more.

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