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03 March 2005

Defense Department Report, March 3: Lawsuit Against Rumsfeld

DiRita says the Justice Department will represent defense secretary

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita said March 3 that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would be represented by the Justice Department in a lawsuit filed against him by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First.

The ACLU and Human Rights First filed a claim in the U.S. District Court against the secretary March 1 alleging that senior Defense Department officials should take responsibility for physical and psychological abuse sustained by eight men while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We continue to vigorously reject any assertion or implication that any of the policies that were approved inside the department or by the commanders … were intended to be policy of abuse,” DiRita told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.

In response to a reporter’s question, the spokesman said the Justice Department will evaluate the claim to determine what the next steps will be.  Even though Defense Department officials have concluded “there’s just no basis for any of these claims,” DiRita said the Justice Department “will determine the way forward on this.”

He went on to say none of the investigations “that have been conducted concluded that there was a policy of abuse.”

A March 1 department release stated that there have been multiple investigations into various aspects of detainee abuse.  There have been eight major reviews, inspections and investigations with three more still under way.

The release said the department “has demonstrated a record that credible allegations of illegal conduct by U.S. military personnel are taken seriously and investigated.”

More than 100 service members have already undergone, or are undergoing, disciplinary proceedings for actions taken against prisoners as part of the global War on Terror.

According to the department release: “No policies or procedures approved by the Secretary of Defense were intended as, or could conceivably have been interpreted as, a policy of abuse, or as condoning abuse.”

It also noted that the Geneva Conventions apply to the conflict in Iraq.

Members of al-Qaida and the Taliban are considered to be unlawful enemy combatants by the department.  While the laws of war do not apply to them, the release said President Bush has ordered, and department policy emphasizes, that al-Qaida and Taliban detainees should be “treated humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.”

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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