"In plain violation"

Four Britons who say they were tortured at Guantanamo file a suit against Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other U.S. military officials.

By Vikram Dodd

Published October 28, 2004 1:52PM (EDT)

Four Britons who claim they were repeatedly tortured at Guantánamo Bay Wednesday filed a suit against Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. military leaders for 6 million pounds (almost $11 million) each in compensation. Defendants in the lawsuit also include the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Richard Myers, and the former head of the prison camp, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, now in charge of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The four Britons were released in March after spending nearly three years at Guantánamo in conditions that have been condemned by human rights groups.

The action was brought by the so-called Tipton three -- Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed -- and Jamal al-Harith from Manchester, England. All deny links or involvement in terrorism. The lawsuit alleges that the Britons were "repeatedly struck with rifle butts, punched, kicked and slapped. They were short-shackled in painful stress positions for many hours ... causing deep flesh wounds and permanent scarring. Plaintiffs were also threatened with unmuzzled dogs, forced to strip naked, subjected to repeated forced body-cavity searches, intentionally subjected to extremes of heat and cold for the purpose of causing suffering."

The lawsuit claims the mistreatment was "in plain violation" of the U.S. Constitution, federal law and its international treaty obligations. The Britons say the highest levels of the U.S. government are to blame for their torture: "It was the result of deliberate and foreseeable action taken by defendant Rumsfeld and senior officers to flout or evade the U.S. Constitution ... law ... treaty obligations and long established norms of customary international law."

In a December 2002 memo, Rumsfeld authorized the "use of mild, non-injurious physical contact, such as grabbing, poking in the chest with the finger and light pushing." Also approved were stress positions, isolation for 30 days, deprivation of light and other stimuli, 20-hour interrogations, convincing detainees that death or severe pain was imminent, shaving the beards of Muslim men and using dogs.

In one declassified U.S. document, a lawyer advises that "the use of a wet towel to induce the misperception of suffocation would also be permissible."

In August, the Tipton three released a 115-page dossier detailing their alleged ill treatment. The Red Cross said the allegations were so serious that, if true, they amounted to war crimes. Eventually, one of the Tipton three confessed to meeting Osama bin Laden at an al-Qaida training camp. But British intelligence established that he was working in a Currys electrical store in the U.K. at the time.

In a statement Wednesday, the three said: "We believe those who have been and still are responsible for these deliberate and unlawful actions must be held accountable. If they are not, this nightmare will happen again and again to others." The U.S. government is expected to try to get the case thrown out or to argue that the actions of senior officials are immune from prosecution because the U.S. was "at war" after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Vikram Dodd

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