Rummy in the Dock

Climbing the chain of command.


A new lawsuit against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld isn't likely to bring justice for prisoners abused at Abu Ghraib and other military prisons, but it may help resolve the controversy over who's accountable for the torture.

As of this writing, nobody above the rank of sergeant has been convicted in the Abu Ghraib case, despite credible claims that the Pentagon's civilian leadership was encouraging, if not mandating, detainee abuse. (Defense Department documents and geographic disparity–similar incidents have surfaced in Afghanistan and Guantanamo–offer tantalizing evidence of a system-wide pattern of abuse.) By suing Rumsfeld in the state of Illinois, where he is believed to have assets, eight Afghan and Iraqi detainees represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First are trying to place responsibility at the top of the chain of command.

The plaintiffs' attorneys are being joined in the case by former Navy Judge Advocate General John D. Hutson, former Chief Judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals James Cullen, and former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Bill Lann Lee. "One of the greatest strengths of the U.S. military throughout our history has been strong civilian leadership at the top of the chain of command," says Hutson. "Unfortunately, Secretary Rumsfeld has failed to live up to that tradition….It is critical that we return to another military tradition: accountability."