An appeals court on Wednesday tossed out a convicted terrorist's lawsuit accusing a high-ranking Bush administration lawyer who wrote the so-called "torture memos" of authorizing illegally harsh treatment.
Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo is protected from such lawsuits because the law defining torture and the treatment of enemy combatants was unsettled in the two years after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, when the memos were written, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.
The memos have been embroiled in national security politics for years after laying out a broad interpretation of executive power.
The unanimous ruling of the three-judge panel reversed a lower court decision allowing Jose Padilla's lawsuit to go forward. Padilla is serving a 17-year sentence on terror charges.
Padilla was arrested in May 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and charged with conspiring with al-Qaida to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" within the United States. President Bush deemed him an enemy combatant and he was held in military custody for nearly four years before being charged in federal court.
Padilla claims that during his military custody he was subjected to a wide-range of harsh interrogation techniques that amounted to illegal torture. Padilla said he underwent prolonged isolation, light deprivation, extreme variations in temperature, loud noises, administration of psychotropic drugs and other techniques that he alleged were authorized by Yoo.
"There was at that time considerable debate, both in and out of government, over the definition of torture as applied to specific interrogation techniques," Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the unanimous three-judge appeals panel. "In light of that debate...we cannot say that any reasonable official in 2001-03 would have known that the specific interrogation techniques allegedly employed against Padilla, however appalling, necessarily amounted to torture."
The appeals panel also said the trial court erred when it concluded that Padilla and other suspected terrorists held by the military enjoyed the same rights as ordinary prison inmates. Fisher was joined by Judges N. Randy Smith and Rebecca R. Pallmeyer. Fisher and Pallmeyer were appointed by President Bill Clinton. President George W. Bush appointed Smith.