An Iraqi mother files a lawsuit against the George W. Bush administration, reflecting growing tensions over Iraq War record.
CORRECTION: A key point of Sundus Saleh’s complaint — that principal members of the administration of George W. Bush, while participating in “the Project for the New American Century,” allegedly planned the Iraqi invasion as early as 1998 — was omitted from the original copy. While this information is part of the public record and was edited out from this story for brevity, it is being reincorporated for clarity’s sake.
Over the last few months, a cloud of hard words and allegations have settled over the Capitol as the Senate Intelligence Committee prepared to release a 6,300-page report condemning the CIA’s actions regarding the implementation of the agency’s interrogation and detention protocol following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The report contains allegations that the CIA’s use of controversial interrogation methods — such as waterboarding — failed to yield significant intelligence in the apprehension of Osama bin Laden and exceeded the established guidelines authorizing the use of such techniques.
“The purpose of this review was to uncover the facts behind this secret program, and the results were shocking,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the intelligence committee. “The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”
With the committee voting Thursday to declassify parts of the report by a vote of 11-3 and with some reports indicating that the White House will allow the CIA — which has condoned the report and has argued it to be highly inaccurate — to lead the declassification process, the level of allegations and counter-allegations in the attempt to make sense of the actions in the Middle East of the George W. Bush White House is not only likely to remain at a high pitch, but it is also likely to prevent any attempts to provide answers or mete out justice.
Sundus Shaker Saleh is an Iraqi single mother of three. Prior to America’s intervention in 2003, Iraq was a safe place to live, Saleh told her lawyer through a translator. However, with the United States’ destruction of the nation’s infrastructure, conditions deteriorated. The collapse of the government left the region subject to local internecine conflict, as various coalitions attempted to fill the power vacuum. The fighting left more than 2.7 million Iraqis internally displaced, including 40 percent of the nation’s middle class, resulting in economic instability.
In 2005, feeling that the situation had grown unsafe for her and her family, Saleh fled Iraq, along with over 2 million others.
Based on the Alien Tort Statute, which allows a non-American national to seek redress judicially for injuries “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States,” Saleh filed a class action lawsuit in March 2013 against George W. Bush and senior Bush administration officials — including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
Saleh argues that as the Second Iraq War was fought on pretenses other than self-defense and as the war was fought without the consent of the United Nations, the invasion was illegal under the U.N. Charter and is, therefore, a “crime of aggression.”
Arguments in the case began Thursday, and the Iraqi mother faces an uphill battle. While the actions of the Bush administration could be argued as being suspect, this cannot be argued judicially. As Bush and the other named defendants were acting in accordance with their official duties, they are protected by the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988 (also known as the Westfall Act), which offers job-based legal immunity to government employees. Saleh would have to prove that Bush and company acted in violation of the U.S. Constitution or violated a law or treaty that permits individuals to be punished for non-compliance. Otherwise, a lawsuit against George W. Bush is actually a lawsuit against the U.S. government, with the attorney general in charge of the defense.
The U.S. Department of Justice has already filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that a judicial decision in this case would allow the judiciary to make decisions on the validity of policy — a determination the DOJ argues is best left to Congress and the executive branch. The DOJ regularly uses the Westfall Act to quickly dismiss potentially problematic cases, such as the March 2007 dismissal of Human Rights First and the American Civil Liberties Union’s lawsuit against Rumsfeld and other officials in the Defense Department, which alleged that the officials directly authorized the torture and abuse of military detainees.
The White House and the DOJ have already made clear their intentions to not prosecute the George W. Bush White House. Under the current political environment, such action would be seen as highly partisan and may threaten Democratic electability — particularly if the public were to perceive the Democrats as the majority party picking on the minority — as well as cause a deepened political divide that would make any attempt at a formal congressional investigation impossible.