The online news portal of TV5
WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court has granted immunity to a former Bush administration official from a lawsuit by a US citizen claiming he was tortured under military custody, the second such ruling this year.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed on Wednesday terror convict Jose Padilla's lawsuit against John Yoo, who drafted legal memos for president George W. Bush's "war on terror" that justified the use of certain enhanced interrogation techniques on terror suspects.
A three-judge panel of the court, based in San Francisco, said in a unanimous decision that Yoo was immune from such challenges because it was "not clearly established" in the two years that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks that Padilla's alleged treatment rose to the level of torture.
The so-called torture memos authored by Yoo, and rejected by President Barack Obama in 2009, were drafted during that period.
Padilla claimed that Yoo violated the Constitution through his role in crafting policies that ultimated triggered his unlawful detention and interrogation.
In addition, the appeals court ruling said that it was not "beyond debate" that Padilla, who was declared an enemy combatant, "was entitled to the same constitutional protections as an ordinary convicted prisoner or accused criminal."
The decision came after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals -- based on the other side of the country in Richmond, Virginia -- tossed out Padilla's lawsuit against former and present officials -- including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- for similar reasons.
Padilla is held at a maximum-security prison in Colorado after being convicted in 2007 of aiding a homegrown Al-Qaeda cell.
Yoo, who penned a 2002 memo that authorized the use of the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, shot back that "we fought in court not just to defend the tough decisions that had to be made after 9/11."
"We fought to protect the nation's ability to fight and win the war against Al-Qaeda -- and other enemies -- in the future," he wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion article published Thursday.
"Worrying about future lawsuits will distort official decision-making, which should balance the costs and benefits to the national interest and not worry about personal liability. No one will ever sue a government official for doing nothing, even as dangers loom."
Padilla has long been a symbol of the George W. Bush administration's alleged legal overreach following the September 11 attacks, when hundreds of so-called "enemy combatants" -- the vast majority of them foreigners captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- were detained without formal charges or trial.
The American Civil Liberties Union rights group says Padilla was prevented from speaking with his lawyer or family for two of the four years he was held in South Carolina, in Guantanamo Bay-like conditions.
It says he was placed in stress positions for several hours at a time, deprived of sleep, beaten and threatened with torture and death.
A former Chicago gang member and Muslim convert, Padilla was convicted in 2007 of aiding Al-Qaeda and sentenced to 17 years in jail.
He had gone to Egypt in the 1990s to study and later traveled to Afghanistan. He was arrested in 2002 as he returned to the United States.
The terror cell was alleged to have supplied recruits and funding to Muslim extremists abroad, and conspired to murder, kidnap and maim people in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia and other countries from 1993 to 2001.
US authorities had initially justified his detention by saying he was an enemy combatant who had planned to explode a radioactive bomb in the United States. The charge was later dropped and his case moved to a civilian court.