The U.S. Supreme Court refused to let convicted terrorism conspirator Jose Padilla sue former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other officials over torture he said he suffered while in military custody.
The court, without comment, rejected an appeal by Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in 2002 and held by the military without charges for more than three years as an “enemy combatant.” He was transferred to civilian custody and convicted in 2007 of conspiring to kill people abroad for Islamic fundamentalist groups and providing aid to al-Qaeda.
Today’s action has no effect on Padilla’s conviction. He is serving a 17-year, four-month prison sentence, though an appeals court in Atlanta ruled in September that the term was too short and that he must be resentenced.
A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, ruled in January that Padilla can’t sue Rumsfeld, former deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and four other former officials who either approved his treatment or commanded the Navy brig in South Carolina where he was held.
The case “would draw courts into the heart of executive and military planning and deliberation,” the appeals court said. The Constitution gives Congress and the executive branch control over national security and military affairs, the court said.
In the appeal rejected today, Padilla said he was shackled for hours in “excruciating stress positions,” injected with what he was told were truth serums and subjected to deliberate banging noises, noxious odors and extreme temperature variations to keep him from sleeping.
Interrogators threatened to kill him or send him to a foreign country where he would receive worse treatment, his lawsuit contended. Padilla sought a declaration that his rights had been violated and $1 in symbolic damages from each of the six defendants.
“It is precisely the role of the judiciary to ensure that allegations of grave misconduct by executive branch officials receive fair adjudication,” Padilla’s appeal said. That role doesn’t disappear when officials contend “their actions are too sensitive for judicial review,” it said.
The denial of review “leaves in place a blank check for government officials to commit any abuse in the name of national security, even the brutal torture of an American citizen in an American prison,” Padilla’s lawyer, Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union, said today in an e-mailed statement. “To date, not a single victim of the Bush administration’s torture regime has received his day in court.”
Lawyers for Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the other former officials said in court papers that “settled law clearly shields military officials from personal liability for their execution of the president’s and Congress’s war powers.” In addition, the former officials said they had “nothing to do” with any alleged acts of torture.
Padilla was described by a prosecutor during his criminal trial as the “star recruit” of a terrorism support cell.
Arrested after arriving in Chicago on a flight from Pakistan, Padilla initially was suspected of plotting to explode a radioactive “dirty bomb,” although he was never charged with that.
Jurors at his criminal trial concluded that he raised money for extremists and trained at an Osama bin Laden terrorist camp in Afghanistan. During his trial in Miami, his defense was that he went to learn to defend Muslims in Kosovo.
A San Francisco-based federal appeals court ruled last month that Padilla couldn’t sue former Justice Department attorney John Yoo for writing a memo that authorized harsh interrogation techniques after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The case is Lebron v. Rumsfeld, 11-1277.