WASHINGTON (AP) – A federal appeals court on Friday rejected a lawsuit by an American civilian translator who says he was thrown in prison in Iraq for nine months without explanation by U.S. officials.
The translator, whose real name does not appear in the lawsuit, is trying to hold former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld personally liable for the translator’s alleged mistreatment while he was detained at the U.S. military’s Camp Cropper.
In 1971, the Supreme Court created a damage remedy for constitutional violations committed by federal agents.
In a 3-0 ruling, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the Supreme Court has never allowed such a remedy in a case involving the military, national security or intelligence.
The appeals court recognized that the translator is a contractor and not an actual member of the military, but said special factors nonetheless apply.
The lawsuit would require testimony from top military officials as well as forces on the ground, which would expend resources and take up the time of U.S. military personnel in Iraq, Judge David Sentelle wrote in the court’s opinion.
“Allowing such an action would hinder our troops from acting decisively in our nation’s interest for fear of judicial review of every detention and interrogation,” said Sentelle.
The appeals court reversed a federal judge, who ruled that the translator’s allegations are enough to enable the case to proceed against Rumsfeld.
In his lawsuit filed in 2008, the man says he was preparing to depart Iraq on annual leave when U.S. officials took him into custody.
The translator said he was exposed to intolerable cold and continuous artificial light, extended solitary confinement without any reading material, blasting by loud heavy metal and country music and blindfolding and hooding.
The translator says that he was the first American to open direct talks with Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, an important U.S. ally who was instrumental in leading the revolt of Sunni Sheikhs against al-Qaeda in Anbar province. The translator was detained while the relationship between Abu Risha and the U.S. was still confidential. The translator was released in 2006, a week or so before U.S. officials first publicly acknowledged the alliance with Abu Risha.
The imprisonment probably stemmed from the U.S. government not wanting a civilian translator going to the United States on leave and possibly talking about the secret relationship between the American military and Abu Risha, said Mike Kanovitz, one of the translator’s attorneys.
“Our best guess is they put him on ice,” Kanovitz of his client.
The translator is listed in the lawsuit as John Doe, a safeguard Kanovitz said is designed to protect him from retaliation.
Abu Risha died in 2007 when a bomb exploded near his home only days after he met with then-President George W. Bush.
Sentelle, the chief judge of the appeals court, is an appointee of President Ronald Reagan. The other two appeals judges in the case are Janice Rogers Brown and Thomas Griffith, both appointees of Bush.
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