WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday that it rejected an appeal by four former Guantanamo Bay prisoners arguing that they should be able to proceed with their lawsuit against top Pentagon officials for torture and religious abuse.
The justices refused to review a U.S. appeals court ruling that dismissed the lawsuit by the four British citizens over their treatment at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba on the grounds the officials enjoyed immunity.
The four men -- Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal al-Harith -- were captured in late 2001 in Afghanistan and were transferred to Guantanamo in early 2002. Released in March of 2004, they were returned to Britain.
Their lawsuit named then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and 10 military commanders. They claimed they were subjected to various forms of torture, harassed as they practiced their religion and forced to shave their religious beards.
In one instance, a guard threw a Koran in a toilet bucket, according to the lawsuit. They claimed violations of a U.S. religious rights law and the U.S. Constitution.
A year ago, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court for further consideration in view of the high court's landmark ruling that Guantanamo prisoners have legal rights.
But the appeals court for a second time dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the detainees had no legal basis for their claims at the time they were at Guantanamo, that Pentagon officials were entitled to immunity and that the religious right law did not apply to the prisoners.
Attorneys for the detainees appealed to the Supreme Court.
"This case presents a unique and compelling opportunity for this court to affirm that torture at Guantanamo was a violation of fundamental rights," they said in the appeal.
"Left in place, the court of appeals' decision will be a final assertion of judicial indifference in the face of calculated torture and humiliation of Muslims in their religion. The decision cannot stand," they said.
The Obama administration urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal. It said the appeals court's decision was correct and that further review of the case was unwarranted.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan of the Justice Department said the questions involved in the case were "narrow and fact-specific" and that they do not conflict with any holdings by the Supreme Court or any appeals court.
The Supreme Court sided with the government in an order issued on Monday without any comment. The decision to turn down the appeal was made at a closed conference on Friday.
(Editing by Jackie Frank)