Lawyers for the Obama administration declared in a court document filed Tuesday that people detained by the U.S. at the Guantánamo Bay prison are not "persons" protected by the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The argument came in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of two men held at Guantánamo—Emad Hassan from Pakistan and Ahmed Rabbani from Yemen—charging that if the U.S. Supreme Court granted the corporation Hobby Lobby the status of a protected "person" under the RFRA, people incarcerated at the offshore prison should also be afforded religious protections.
“It is staggering that the Obama administration is prepared to argue that Guantánamo prisoners aren’t people, while accepting that corporations are." —Cori Crider, Reprieve
Department of Justice lawyers disagreed, endorsing what they say is the precedent of the District Court in Washington, D.C. "which holds that Guantánamo detainees, as nonresident aliens outside the United States sovereign territory, are not protected 'person[s]' within the meaning and scope of RFRA," according to the filing.
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Cori Crider, attorney for human rights organization Reprieve, which represents Hassan and Rabbani, slammed the argument in a statement released Wednesday: “It is staggering that the Obama administration is prepared to argue that Guantánamo prisoners aren’t people, while accepting that corporations are."
Hassan and Rabbani, who have been held since 2002 without charge or trial, accuse prison authorities of violating their religious rights by preventing them from participating in communal tarawih prayers during the ongoing 2014 holy month of Ramadan due to their participation in a hunger strike.
The accusations come amid mounting evidence that the U.S. military has denied the religious and human rights of people detained at Guantánamo, from torture to denial of due process to intentional destruction and desecration of the Qur'an.
"I fail to see how the President can stand up and claim Guantánamo is a scandal while his lawyers call detainees non-persons in court," said Crider. "If the President is serious about closing this prison, he could start by recognizing that its inmates are people – most of whom have been cleared by his own Government.”