The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out a lawsuit by two US whistleblowers, Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel, who were tortured by the US military after coming forward with evidence of wrongdoing by the contracting company they were working for.
The court ruled that US military commanders “enjoy broad immunity” in cases of torture abroad and that the military chain of command “couldn’t be responsible” just because detainee abuse crossed a legal boundary. The ruling added that torturing detainees is “a part of human nature that is very difficult to control.” They added that being liable for the torture would “distract” the military’s leadership.
US Court of Appeals Judge James Gwim had previous rejected Obama Administration arguments to this effect, saying that torture lawsuits could continue against officials and that US citizens were always entitled to due process related to their detention. The administration condemned Gwim for “second-guessing” the military.
Vance and Ertel approached the government about an illegal program dubbed “beer for bullets,” in which the company they were working for smuggled liquor into Iraq to trade to US soldiers for their weapons and ammo, and then sold those weapons on the open market. When the company learned they were whistleblowers, they had their papers confiscated and the military captured them when they attempted to return to the US.
Dissenting Judge David Hamilton blasted the ruling, saying that there were clear avenues for handling torture cases inside the US, and there was no good reason to “erect hurdles” just because the US citizens were tortured by the US outside of the country.
“That disparity attributes to our government and to our legal system a degree of hypocrisy that is breathtaking,” Hamilton added. Vance and Ertel’s lawyer says the two have not decided whether or not to appeal to the next level, but said he believes the ruling’s grant of blanket immunity will eventually wind up in the Supreme Court.
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