Story Highlights• NEW: Government officials cannot be sued for actions while in office, judge says
• NEW: Prisoners: Rumsfeld and other military officials knew of alleged torture
• Detainees: Torture included being shocked, stripped naked and anally probed
• Charges were brought by human rights groups on behalf of nine detainees
Adjust font size:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and three high-ranking U.S. military officials accused of ignoring allegations that U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan tortured prisoners.
"Despite the horrifying torture allegations," wrote U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan in a 58-page opinion, "the plaintiffs lack standing to pursue a declaratory judgment against the defendants."
The charges were brought by human rights groups on behalf of nine former detainees.
Hogan said there was nothing in federal case law that would allow officials such as Rumsfeld to be held personally liable for actions related to their government service.
The prisoners claimed they were innocent civilians who, according to their legal appeals, were "subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading acts during their detentions."
The detainees alleged they were hung upside down while slapped, electrically shocked, beaten unconscious, stripped naked and anally probed, menaced by dogs, chained and deprived of water and food.
Rumsfeld, who was defense secretary until resigning last December, was sued along with three former military officers: Col. Janis Karpinski, who ran the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad; Col. Thomas Pappas, the highest-ranking military intelligence officer at the facility; and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
Human Rights First and the American Civil Liberties Union represented the former prisoners in court, saying the government officials failed to oversee the reports of abuse and torture by those under their command, during incarceration and interrogation of the prisoners.
The mistreatment of detainees exploded into a worldwide scandal in 2005, when photos of U.S. soldiers posing next to naked and cowering prisoners at Abu Ghraib were published.
Hogan rejected the arguments on a number of legal grounds, including the fact that liability in such lawsuits would hamper the military's ongoing war on terror.
"The court cautions against the myopic approach advocated by the plaintiffs," wrote the judge, "which essentially frames the issue as whether torture is universally prohibited and thereby warrants a judicially created remedy under the circumstances.
"There is no getting around the fact that authorizing monetary damages against military officials engaged in an active war would invite enemies to use our own federal courts to obstruct the armed forces' ability to act decisively and without hesitation in defense of our liberty and national interests."
Hogan also noted that foreigners seeking legal redress in U.S. courts are limited in asserting violations of constitutional rights afforded U.S. citizens.
Legal precedent generally protects individual federal officials from these kinds of lawsuits.
Case law prohibits suits against government officials for actions taken in the service of their jobs, such as a suit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.