By Daniel Pulliam
A lawsuit alleging that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is responsible for the prison torture scandal in Afghanistan and Iraq moved to federal court Wednesday against the wishes of government lawyers representing the Pentagon chief.
Thewww.aclu.org lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First on behalf of eight Afghani and Iraqi men who say they were tortured while held in U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A panel of seven judges -- the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation -- moved the lawsuit to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, consolidating pretrial proceedings of four lawsuits filed by the ACLU. The other lawsuits were filed againstLt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq when the alleged abuse occurred, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinsky, who commanded U.S. military police forces in Iraq at the time and Col. Thomas Pappas, who commanded U.S. military intelligence and military police forces in Iraq at the time.
According to the ACLU, lawyers representing the military commanders wanted the case tried in the Eastern District of Virginia, rather than elevating the case to the federal level.
"This brings us one step closer to proving in court that the legal responsibility for the systemic abuse and torture of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan lies at the top of the chain of command and not at the bottom," said a statement from Lucas Guttentag, the lawsuit's lead counsel and director of the ACLU's Immigrant's Rights Project.
Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan will hear the case.
"We welcome this decision and hope that we are closer to having a federal court reverse policy decisions that have led to torture and abuse," said Michael Posner, executive director of Human Rights First in the statement.
Calls to the Justice Department for comment were not returned in time for publication.
A former Internal Revenue Service contract worker and his partner were sentenced to federal prison for stealing more than $2.6 million in taxpayer remittance checks from an IRS lockbox facility in Richardson, Texas, according to the U.S. Attorney's office for the Northern District of Texas.
The contractor, Edmond Nkem Ekene, was sentenced to almost 6 years in prison without parole for embezzlement by a bank employee. His partner Theophilos Oluyinka Okuribido, also known as Michael Avon, was given 8 years without parole. Twice deported back to Nigeria, Okuribido also pled guilty to illegal re-entry to the United States.
Both will pay fines totaling about $200,000.
Ekene was a temporary employee supplied by Adecco Employment Agency to the Bank of America, which maintained the lockbox facility in the Dallas suburb through an agreement with the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service and the IRS, serving the Midwestern and Western United States.
During his employment with Adecco from March to September 2002, Ekene worked with Okuribido to steal more than $2,690,750 in funds sent from the IRS's lockbox facility.
After stealing checks, Ekene and Okuribido would alter the name of the payee from the IRS or Treasury Department to fake names or entities and deposit them into bank accounts opened under those names or organizations. Ekene and Okuribido also would copy stolen checks to make templates for counterfeits. Several color copies of taxpayer checks were found in Okuribido's North Hollywood, Calif., home.
The IRS works with many banks to operate regional lockbox centers in order to accelerate processing, usually forwarding the transaction records to the agency the day after they are received, allowing the United States to earn extra interest on the money.
The investigation was handled by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, the Homeland Security Department Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Farmers Branch Police Department.