WASHINGTON – The torture and abuse of prisoners held by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan falls on the shoulders of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search ), a lawsuit filed Tuesday contends.
The suit was filed on behalf of four Iraqis and four Afghans who allege they suffered severe and repeated beatings, cutting with knives, sexual humiliation and assault, mock executions, death threats, and restraint in excruciating positions. The lawsuit says Rumsfeld should compensate the torture victims.
They were held in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003 and 2004, were never charged with crimes and have been released, according to officials at the groups that filed the suit, the American Civil Liberties Union (search) and Human Rights First (search).
"These individuals were not charged with anything," said Avi Cover, a spokesman for Human Rights First, in an interview on FOX News Channel's "Hannity and Colmes."
"War functions within a legal regime," Cover said, adding that "Secretary Rumsfeld sent individuals to Guantanamo Bay" with the expressed purpose of having them tortured.
"We have a former Navy Admiral and a former general that have signed on to this [lawsuit]," Cover said.
The suit is the latest against Rumsfeld, military commanders and civilian contractors since the disclosure last spring of photographs taken at Iraq's Abu Ghraib (search) prison.
The Pentagon said in a statement that military officials "vigorously dispute any assertion or implication that the Department of Defense approved of, sanctioned, or condoned as a matter of policy detainee abuse."
The suit contends that Rumsfeld is to blame for the abuses because he changed long-held interrogation policies and practices designed to prohibit torture.
The groups said the Pentagon chief later ignored overwhelming evidence that the policies had resulted in abuse of prisoners.
Pentagon officials have said the scandal has stained America's honor, endangered U.S. soldiers around the world and inflamed the global fight against terrorism. Charges have been filed against a number of lower-level soldiers.
Rumsfeld has apologized for the scandal and says he twice last year offered President Bush his resignation.
"He gives lip service to being responsible, but has not been held accountable ... and the victims have not been compensated," said Lucas Guttentag, lead counsel in the suit and director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project.
The suit was filed in federal court in Chicago because Rumsfeld's home state is Illinois. It seeks an undetermined amount of compensation and asks for a finding that Rumsfeld violated the Constitution and Geneva Conventions (search) on prisoner treatment.
At the same time, the ACLU filed three similar suits in other states against Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was the commander in Iraq, and Col. Thomas Pappas and Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who were commanders at Abu Ghraib. The complaints were filed in federal courts in South Carolina, Texas and Connecticut.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.