WASHINGTON — Four Britons who were held incommunicado at the U.S. military prison in Cuba for more than two years as suspected al-Qaeda fighters filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that they were tortured.
The lawsuit, the first of its kind filed by former detainees at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, seeks $10 million in damages from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and nine other military leaders. The Pentagon officials are being sued as individuals, the suit says, because they sanctioned abuse of detainees in violation of U.S. and international law.
– One Rule For Them…
Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Britons were properly classified as al-Qaeda fighters when they were captured in Afghanistan in late 2001. They were released in March after extensive negotiations with Great Britain, a U.S. ally in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They were not charged with any wrongdoing.
“There’s no basis in U.S. law to pay claims to those captured and detained as a result of combat activities,” Shavers said.
At issue is Rumsfeld’s approval of “stress and duress” interrogation tactics at Guantanamo in December 2002 that later were modified or discontinued. The tactics — and the Bush administration’s since-abandoned legal defense of them — became public this year because of the military’s abuse of Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
The four Britons are among more than 200 foreigners who have been released from Guantanamo because U.S. officials believe they no longer are of any intelligence value or do not pose a threat to U.S. interests. In June, the Supreme Court said detainees can challenge their detentions in U.S. courts. Claims have been filed on behalf of more than 60 current detainees.
The former Guantanamo detainees — Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal Al-Harith — say they were abused by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and in Cuba, and interrogated under such coercive circumstances that one of them falsely stated that he was pictured in a 2000 videotape with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Boyhood friends who attended the same high school, Rasul, Iqbal and Ahmed, now in their 20s, say they were sold to U.S. soldiers by an Afghan warlord for $35,000 each.
Al-Harith, now in his late 30s, says he initially was held in Afghanistan by the Taliban as a suspected British spy. After a U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban government, he was taken into U.S. custody and flown to Cuba.
The men say that in Afghanistan, they were kept in filthy cages, questioned at gunpoint and forced to walk barefoot in the cold. In Cuba, the men say, they were forced to squat for hours in the sun, deprived of sleep, fed moldy food and threatened by unmuzzled dogs.
The lawsuit quotes soldiers as telling the detainees, “We could kill you, and no one would know.”
Eric Lewis, the former detainees’ attorney, said the case is “about accountability.”