The U.S. Justice Department wants a federal appeals court in Washington to overturn a judge's ruling that said an American contractor detained in Iraq can sue former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for alleged abuses.
U.S. District Judge James Gwin this month ruled for the contractor, an American civilian and former Army veteran who provided translation services to the military in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. Gwin said Rumsfeld is not entitled to qualified immunity. The judge’s decision is here.
The contractor, whose name is confidential in the suit in Washington federal district court, “has a right to be free from conduct and conditions of confinement that shook the conscience,” Gwin said.
Gwin of Cleveland federal district court took over the case in January 2010 from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Gwin is sitting by designation in Washington to hear the suit, filed in 2008.
A Justice Department lawyer, James Whitman of the Civil Division’s torts branch, said in a court filing (PDF) this week that Rumsfeld is entitled to the interlocutory appeal because Gwin rejected Rumsfeld’s qualified immunity argument.
Whitman said the appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit relieves Rumsfeld from his obligation to answer the complaint.
Earlier this month, Gwin issued an order demanding the Justice Department respond immediately to the complaint. “Irrespective of defendant’s intent to file an interlocutory appeal, he must file an answer,” the judge said in an order.
DOJ lawyers this week asked Gwin to clarify that the case is stayed because of the appeal. So far, however, Gwin has not issued an order saying the litigation is on hold.
This week, the contractor filed an amended complaint (PDF) against Rumsfeld and other officials. The complaint said federal officials abducted and illegally imprisoned the contractor, who was not charged with any crime. The man alleged his captors subjected him to sleep deprivation and physically assaulted him.
“Throughout his detention, plaintiff was held in torturous conditions of confinement, subjected to threats on his life, and denied an attorney or even access to a legitimate court to challenge the government’s actions,” the suit said.
A lawyer for the contractor, Michael Kanovitz of Chicago’s Loevy & Loevy, who specializes in class actions, constitutional law and whistleblower protection, was not immediately reached for comment this morning. The Government Accountability Project also represents the contractor.