Moral Low Ground

US Government

Court: Whistleblowers Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel, Tortured by US Military in Iraq, Cannot Sue

More immunity for the Bush war criminals. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

A federal appeals court has ruled that two American contractors who were imprisoned and tortured by the US military in Iraq cannot proceed with a lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The Associated Press reports that the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled 8-3 on Wednesday that Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel cannot proceed with their lawsuit against Rumsfeld. Vance and Ertel, both Americans, were private contractors for Shield Security Group, an Iraqi firm that was illegally selling weapons that ended up in the hands of militant groups and death squads.

Vance and Ertel then turned whistleblower, becoming FBI informants as the case against Shield Group was built. But things went terribly wrong and the two men found themselves detained and imprisoned in Camp Cropper, a US military prison near Baghdad airport. They were held there and interrogated by officials from multiple US agencies for weeks.

The two Americans allege that they were tortured while in US custody. They say they were subjected to extreme temperatures, solitary confinement, slammed into walls, deprived of sleep and bombarded with ear-splitting heavy metal music.

Ertel was eventually found innocent of any wrongdoing and cleared for release, although it was another 18 days before he was informed of the decision. Vance, a Navy veteran, was freed without charged after 97 harrowing days in captivity. He suffers from nightmares and paranoia as a result of his ordeal.

A three-judge panel of the same court that ruled against the men gave them a green light to sue Rumsfeld for torture last August. But Wednesday’s ruling means that officials in the military chain of command are immune from torture claims. The court reasoned that Rumsfeld and others in the chain of command cannot be held responsible for lower-ranking troops who break the law, even if the torture methods allegedly used on the plaintiffs were authorized by high-ranking Bush administration officials including the former defense secretary himself.

“The secretary of defense has more than a million soldiers under his command,” the court’s ruling states. “People able to exert domination over others often abuse that power; it is a part of human nature that is very difficult to control.”

US Circuit Judge David Hamilton vehemently dissented, pointing out that someone tortured by a foreign forces has more legal recourse in the US than Americans tortured by their own military.

“That disparity attributes to our government and to our legal system a degree of hypocrisy that is breathtaking,” Hamilton wrote.

While voting with the majority, US Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood wrote a separate opinion in which she condemned the torture of the two American whistleblowers.

“This shameful fact should not be minimized by using euphemisms such as the term ‘harsh interrogation techniques’,” Wood wrote. “In my view, the methods must be acknowledged for what they are: torture.”

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