Rumsfeld Response in Abuse Case Delayed; U.S. to Defend Officers

By Leon Worden
Signal Multimedia Editor

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

*MEDIA—MANDATORY CREDIT: The Signal newspaper of Santa Clarita, Calif.

he government and the American Civil Liberties Union have agreed to a 60-day delay in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse lawsuits while the complaints against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and three senior military leaders are consolidated.
    The complaints were filed March 18 against each defendant individually in his or her home state. Statutorily, they have 60 days to respond.
    According to a letter obtained Tuesday by The Signal, the government is seeking to extend the deadline another 60 days from May 17 to July 18. The ACLU has agreed, the letter said, because the court may need that long to rule on the ACLU's request to combine the cases and move them to New York.
    The government wants them moved to Virginia, where the Pentagon is located. The ACLU wants them to be tried in New York, where the court has forced the government to release relevant documents. A hearing is set for May 26 in Rhode Island.
    Named in the lawsuits with Rumsfeld are Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the leader of U.S. forces in Iraq during the period of prisoner abuse; former military police commander Janis Karpinski; and Col. Thomas Pappas, who ran military intelligence operations at the prison.
    The lawsuits accuse the four leaders of authorizing or ignoring the use of harsh interrogation tactics resulting in abuse. Filed by the ACLU and Human Rights First on behalf of eight ex-detainees, the complaints allege violations of constitutional protections and international agreements against torture.
    In the letter, a government attorney said the Justice Department will represent all four officials "for the limited purpose of obtaining the extension" from the court.
    The letter, dated Monday, said the Justice Department has not yet determined whether it will provide Rumsfeld, Sanchez, Karpinski and Pappas with "full individual capacity representation" in the case.
    However, Justice Department spokesman Charles S. Miller said Tuesday that since the lawsuits allege misconduct while the defendants were acting in their official capacities, the government will offer to defend all four.
    "In all probability, we will be representing them," he said. "It will be up to the individuals whether they accept it."
    The Pentagon was asked why Rumsfeld would agree to consolidate his defense with that of officers who may bear more culpability. Spokesman Maj. Michael Shaver deferred the question to the Justice Department, where Miller declined to say.
    Military and other government inquiries conducted over the past year have assigned different degrees of blame to the four individuals targeted by the ACLU. While an Army report cleared Sanchez and Karpinski last week of direct responsibility for the abuse, Pappas still faces possible disciplinary action after an Army investigator found him "either directly or indirectly responsible."
    Lucas Guttentag, the ACLU's lead attorney in the case, told The Signal last week that he believes no government investigation has been adequate.
    "The fault of all of the investigations is where they didn't look, not where they did look," he said. "They do not explore the full breadth of the command decisions."
    He said the ACLU and other organizations are seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor or an independent commission to investigate allegations of wrongdoing.