Two Americans claim they were tortured by US officials after making bribery allegations


A federal judge in Chicago ruled on Friday that a lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, brought by two Americans who had worked for an Iraqi contractor, can be allowed to proceed.

In his ruling (PDF), US District Judge Wayne R. Andersen said the plaintiffs had provided enough concrete evidence of torture to allow the suit to go forward. The judge dismissed Rumsfeld's arguments that his position near the top of the executive branch immunized him from lawsuits involving the authorization of torture, the Associated Press reported.

According to court documents, Nathan Ertel and Donald Vance went to Iraq in 2005 to work for an Iraqi contractor, Shield Group Security. Once there, they say they witnessed SGS employees handing money over to "Iraqi sheikhs." After they notified two FBI agents in Baghdad and one in Chicago of what they say, they say their employer cut off their access pass to Baghdad's Green Zone and were struck in the city's dangerous "Red Zone."

But the lawsuit claims things got really bad once they were "rescued" from the Red Zone by US authorities. Instead of being treated as witnesses to potential crimes, the two plaintiffs say they were told they could be classified as "enemy combatants" for working for a company suspected of shipping weapons to insurgents.

The duo say they were "subjected to sleep deprivation, long hours of interrogation, hunger and a practice known as 'walling' in which subjects are blindfolded and walked into walls," the Wall Street Journal reports.

Judge Andersen's preliminary ruling describes the duo's allegations:

Plaintiffs allege that they then were taken by United States forces to the United States Embassy. Plaintiffs allege that military personnel seized all of their personal property, including their laptop computers, cellular phones, and cameras. ... Following these interviews, plaintiffs claim they were escorted to a trailer to sleep for two to three hours.

Next, plaintiffs claim they were awakened by several armed guards who placed them under arrest and then handcuffed and blindfolded them and pushed them into a humvee. Plaintiffs contend that they were labeled as “security internees” affiliated with SGS, some of whose members were suspected of supplying weapons to insurgents. According to plaintiffs, that information alone was sufficient, under the policies enacted by Rumsfeld and others, for the indefinite, incommunicado detention of plaintiffs without due process or access to an attorney.

Plaintiffs claim to have been taken to Camp Prosperity, a United States military compound in Baghdad. There they allege they were placed in a cage, strip searched, and fingerprinted. Plaintiffs assert that they were taken to separate cells and held in solitary confinement 24 hours per day. After approximately two days, plaintiffs claim they were shackled, blindfolded, and placed in separate humvees which took them to Camp Cropper. Again, plaintiffs allege they were strip searched and placed in solitary confinement. ... All requests for an attorney allegedly were denied.

In ruling that the lawsuit can go forward, Judge Andersen said the decision "represents a recognition that federal officials may not strip citizens of well settled constitutional protections against mistreatment simply because they are located in a tumultuous foreign setting."

A Justice Department spokesperson told AP that officials are "reviewing the court's decision."

'GITMO-IZING IRAQ'

At the core of Ertel and Vance's case is their allegations that "in August 2003 Rumsfeld sent Major Geoffrey Miller to Iraq to review the United States prison system.

"Plaintiffs claim that Rumsfeld informed Major Miller that his mission was to 'gitmo-ize' Camp Cropper [the site where Ertel and Vance were held], a task that required recommendations on how to more effectively obtain actionable intelligence from detainees and “authorized Major Miller to apply in Iraq the techniques that Rumsfeld had approved for use at Guantanamo and elsewhere. At Rumsfeld’s direction, Major Miller did just that," court documents state.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 25.