WASHINGTON — Defenders of human rights have hailed as long overdue a lawsuit holding Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld responsible for the torture of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Filed March 1 in an Illinois federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First, the lawsuit charges that Rumsfeld violated the U.S. Constitution and international laws prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners. Rumsfeld knew that torture was taking place and did nothing to stop it, according to the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of eight victims of the abuse. All have been released without ever being charged with any wrongdoing. None have been compensated for the torture they endured.

“This lawsuit says exactly what we’ve been saying all along: Rumsfeld is violating the Constitution and international law in the torture and abuse of these prisoners,” Veterans for Peace President David Cline told the World. The group is calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on the same grounds.

Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson and retired Army Brig. Gen. James Cullen told New York Times columnist Bob Herbert they fully support the lawsuit. He quoted them in an op-ed titled, “We can’t remain silent.”

“At some point I had to say, Wait a minute. We cannot go along with this [torture],” Cullen said. Hutson said the torture “is a stain on the honor of people who didn’t participate in it at all.”

On March 25 the ACLU released another 1,200 Pentagon documents, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, exposing more torture and abuse of Iraqi and Afghan detainees. “These documents provide further evidence that the torture of detainees was much more widespread than the government has acknowledged,” said ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer. “At a minimum, the documents indicate a colossal failure of leadership.”

Cline blasted the lack of accountability for the war crimes. “They want to pin the torture and abuse on a few ‘bad apples’ … But it is clear that torture was a conscious policy coming from the commander in chief in the White House. It’s barbaric.”

The latest revelation is a lawsuit by Maher Arar, 25, a Canadian citizen, charging that U.S. agents kidnapped him while he was changing planes in New York and flew him to Syria where he was brutally tortured for 10 months in a practice the Bush administration calls “rendition.” Aviation records including flight logs of the jet used to transport Arar corroborate his charges.

A top-level Pentagon review released March 10 by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church whitewashed the role of Rumsfeld and other top officials, even though documents have surfaced that the president himself signed a secret executive order authorizing torture.

The lurid photos of U.S. personnel posing with naked Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib caused worldwide outrage when they were released a year ago. Gen. Antonio Taguba testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the torture was “systemic, flagrant … violations of international law.”

Last month, Army officials announced that 17 soldiers involved in the deaths of 27 detainees killed in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq will not be prosecuted. The Pentagon rejected recommendations that the interrogators be court-martialed, arguing they had “lawfully used force” on detainees and there was “not enough evidence for negligent homicide” charges.

Among the newest batch of disclosures was a commander’s report that an Iraqi teenager was beaten so badly by interrogators with the 311th Battalion Military Intelligence that they broke his jaw. His mouth was wired shut and he could only take in nourishment through a straw. His torturers ordered him to tell investigators he broke the jaw when he fell down “and no one beat me.”

The commander wrote, “Abuse of detainees in some form or another was an acceptable practice and was demonstrated to the inexperienced infantry guards almost as guidance.” No punitive action was taken against the unit


At a U.S. military facility in Mosul, Iraq, detainee Abu Malik Kenami died from a heart attack after being forced to do strenuous “ups and downs” — knee bends — until he collapsed. The Pentagon file claimed the cause of death “will never be known because an autopsy was never performed.” Kenami’s corpse was stashed in a refrigerated van for five days before it was turned over to an Iraqi mortician.

The ACLU/Human Rights First lawsuit seeks a court order determining that the injuries suffered by the plaintiffs “violated international law, the U.S. Constitution, and U.S. military law” and also seeks monetary compensation for the victims.