On March 13, 2013, Comar filed two lawsuits in California against George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz on behalf of an Iraqi client and himself. He alleges the defendants planned and waged a “war of aggression” in violation of laws set down at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946 and seeks to hold the defendants personally liable for their actions.
Well, we can’t have that.
So, because every other problem in America has been resolved, Obama’s Department of Justice requested that the Bush Gang be granted procedural immunity. DOJ claims that in planning and waging the Iraq War, the Bushies acted within the legitimate scope of their employment and are thus immune from suit. This is the “Westfall Act Certification,” defense, submitted pursuant to the Westfall Act of 1988. The Act permits the Attorney General, at his or her discretion, to substitute the United States as the defendant and essentially grant absolute immunity to individual government employees for actions taken within the scope of their employment.
To save non-lawyers the trouble of a Google: In 1988, Congress amended the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) to reinforce federal employees’ immunity from tort actions. These amendments — commonly known as the Westfall Act because they were a response to Westfall v. Erwin, 484 U.S. 292, 300 (1988) — provide that an action against the United States is the only remedy for injuries caused by federal employees acting within the scope of their employment. 28 U.S.C. SS 2679(d)(1). There some limited exceptions to when Westfall can be used, such as an action “which is brought for a violation of the Constitution of the United States.” Hmm.
Now to be fair, this is actually a fairly standard defense by the government. The idea in theory is that if a government official follows the rules and say, denies you a passport lawfully because you did not present the required documentation, you can’t sue the guy. I can say in my own State Department career assisting American Citizens abroad, most of whom had been arrested for something (top three reasons for arrest: drugs, drugs and drugs), more than one wanted to sue me personally because of something well out of my control, such as a foreign judge thought they were scum sucking freaks,or that a Korean prison turns out to be an unpleasant place. I was just doing my job, and followed the rules, and thus the government protected my actions.
Still, while understanding the Department of Justice wants to just dismiss cases like Comar’s as routinely as possible, it leaves a sour taste to learn that the current administration wants to immunize the Bushies over a terrible war that nearly bankrupted America and resulted in so many needless deaths. This is little more than cops giving other cops a pass on a speeding ticket, professional courtesy you know. Or maybe the Obama folks are worried that if they hold Bush accountable, a future President Rand Paul might try and prosecute them for wanton murder by drones.
Attorney Comar does raise a good point in his lawsuit: since much of the planning for the Iraq War was done long before thugs like Rumsfeld, Rice and Wolfowitz actually took office, they should not be protected by Westfall. In addition, there is that “violation of the Constitution of the United States” clause that must figure into this all somehow.
The ongoing case against Bush is Saleh v. Bush (N.D. Cal. Mar. 13, 2013, No. C 13 1124 JST).
Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well, and writes about current events at his blog. Van Buren’s next book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, will be available April 2014.