Chicago Civil Rights Lawyer Mike Kanovitz on Suing Donald Rumsfeld (Part 1)

It's been a tough month for Donald Rumsfeld. First, a federal judge in D.C. ruled that an Army veteran may proceed with a civil suit against the former defense secretary for torture he claims he suffered when he was a translator in Iraq. A week later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago upheld a lower court's ruling that two American contractors may continue their lawsuit against Rumsfeld, claiming he's personally liable for torture they endured after they blew the whistle on corrupt practices taking place at an Iraqi-owned contractor where they were employed.

Which means it's been a good month for civil rights attorney Mike Kanovitz, of Loevy & Loevy in Chicago and an Illinois Super Lawyers listee. He's representing the plaintiffs in both cases. We caught up with Kanovitz to find out, in this two-part interview, why he's going after Rumsfeld and how he's kept the cases from being dismissed.Kanovitz 002.LOWjpg.jpg

What exactly were the original allegations against the translator? 

The allegation was that somebody-they don't have to tell you who it is-suspected him of possibly being affiliated with people who may represent a threat to multinational forces in Iraq. The factual basis behind the supposed suspicion is classified, so you don't get to find that out.

What we believe happened is that the government wanted to silence him about a source [a Sheik] that he developed and who became a staunch ally of the United States. A little over a week after the government released [my client], the translator, the United States publically acknowledged its ties to this Sheik for the first time. So the timing suggests they just put him away until they were ready for people to know that there was a tie to the Sheik. He was held in the same facility where they keep enemy combatants.

So why sue Rumsfeld?

The factual record establishes that he has personal responsibility for what happened-he initiated the list of torture techniques. Originally, he approved them for Guantanamo; then he sent generals to "Gitmo-lize" Iraq, and gave them instructions to transfer [those techniques] to the intelligence gathering system in the Iraq prisons. There were many reports coming back to Mr. Rumsfeld ... telling him that torture tactics were being used, and he not only continued to let it happen, he took steps to keep it in place.

In '05 Congress enacted the Detainee Treatment Act [DTA]. Congress said "enough of these enhanced interrogation techniques"-the only techniques the military is allowed to use are the ones approved in the Army field manual. So Rumsfeld spends months after that trying to classify parts of the field manual. We get a new field manual in September of 2006 and then he resigns.

Why not go higher? Bush or Cheney?

The president signed the DTA and said don't use these tactics; use the ones that are in the field manual. So anything that Rumsfeld did after that, he did by going off the farm.

Do you think the Obama administration will put up much of a fight on Rumsfeld's behalf?

Oh yeah, I do anticipate that. Their options at this point are rehearing en banc in the 7th Circuit or they can take it up on cert. I don't think they're just going to turn around and go back to the district court and say OK, we're ready to start doing discovery.

This administration obviously has a choice in what it's willing to advocate but they've been towing the same party line for Rumsfeld the whole time. It didn't switch when the administration switched, let's put it that way.

Tomorrow: How Kanovitz has kept the cases from being dismissed.