VANCE v. RUMSFELD, Nos. 10-1687 & 10-2442 (Seventh Circuit, November 7, 2012)
In 2005 and 2006 Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel worked in Iraq for Shield Group Security (later known as National Shield Security), a private firm that provided protective services to businesses and governmental organizations. (This factual narration comes from the complaint, whose allegations we must accept for current purposes.) Vance came to suspect that Shield was supplying weapons to groups opposed to the United States. He reported his observations to the FBI. Ertel furnished some of the information that Vance relayed. Persons who Vance and Ertel suspected of gun-running retaliated by accusing Vance and Ertel of being arms dealers themselves. Military personnel arrested them in mid-April 2006. (The complaint does not specify which day the arrests occurred.)
According to the complaint, plaintiffs were held in solitary confinement and denied access to counsel. Their interrogators used “threats of violence and actual violence, sleep deprivation and alteration, extremes of temperature, extremes of sound, light manipulation, threats of indefinite detention, denial of food, denial of water, denial of needed medical care, yelling, prolonged solitary confinement, incommunicado detention, falsified allegations and other psychologically-disruptive and injurious techniques.” Vance and Ertel were provisionally classified as “security internees” and called before a Detainee Status Board, but they were not allowed to present evidence—and the military officials running the proceedings refused to look at files on their computers that Vance and Ertel say would have established their innocence of arms-dealing charges. Nor did the Board contact the FBI, even though Vance and Ertel said that agents would verify their story.
The Board concluded on April 29, 2006, that Ertel should be released. Nonetheless he was held for another 18 days, during which interrogators continued to use harsh techniques. He was released on May 17, 2006. Vance remained in solitary confinement until his release on July 20, 2006, and was subjected to sleep deprivation, prolonged exposure to cold, intolerably loud music, “hooding,” “walling” (placing a person’s heels against a wall and slamming his body backward into that wall), threats of violence, and other techniques that caused physical or mental pain. The Army Field Manual forbids several of these techniques, which it classifies as “physical torture,” “mental torture,” or “coercion.” See Army Field Manual: Intelligence Interrogation 1-8 (1992). Whether any of the techniques constitutes “torture” within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. §2340(1), which makes torture by interrogators a crime, is a subject on which the parties’ briefs do not join issue, and which we therefore do not address.
The Detainee Status Board eventually concluded that both Vance and Ertel are innocent of the allegations that had been made against them. Neither was charged with a crime.
In December 2006 Vance and Ertel filed this suit against persons who conducted or approved their detention and interrogation, and many others who had supervisory authority over those persons. The defendants included Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Plaintiffs alleged that Secretary Rumsfeld had authorized the use of harsh interrogation methods in Iraq and contended that he is personally liable in damages—even though plaintiffs also alleged that they had never been accused of being enemy combatants and therefore were not within the scope of Secretary Rumsfeld’s authorization. They also sued the United States, seeking the return of all property that had been seized from them in Iraq.
Decision: Immunity for the entire military, even the torturers themselves.
Comment: Shame! Makes me embarrassed to be an American.