For Immediate Release
Ruling: No Court Can Hear Abuse and Wrongful Death Claims from Guantanamo
NEW YORK - Yesterday evening, the district court in Washington, D.C. ruled against
two men who died in Guantanamo in June 2006 and their families in a
case seeking to hold federal officials and the United States
responsible for the men's torture, arbitrary detention and ultimate
deaths at Guantánamo.
Following a two-year investigation, the military concluded that the men
had committed suicide. Recent first-hand accounts by four soldiers
stationed at the base at the time of the deaths, however, raise serious
questions about the cause and circumstances of the deaths, including
the possibility that the men died as the result of torture.
In dismissing the case, the district court ruled that the deceased's
constitutional claims that it was a violation of due process and cruel
treatment to detain them for four years without charge while subjecting
them to inhumane and degrading conditions of confinement and violent
acts of torture and abuse, could not be heard in federal court. The men
were held on the basis of an "enemy combatant" finding by a Combatant
Status Review Tribunal later found by the Supreme Court itself to be
The district court held that the claims were barred by a
jurisdiction-stripping provision of the 2006 Military Commissions Act
that bars any challenge by a Guantánamo detainee to their treatment,
conditions, or any other aspect of their detention, while failing to
address the plaintiffs' arguments about the unconstitutionality of the
provision itself. The court also dismissed the deceased's claims under
the Alien Tort Claims Act, following a holding by the D.C. Circuit
Court in another detainee case that found that even torture or
seriously criminal conduct can fall within the proper "scope of
employment" of a government actor. Last, the court failed to consider
the merits of plaintiffs' claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act,
including for emotional distress by the families, by holding that the
U.S. military base at Guantánamo is still a "foreign country" for the
purposes of the Act.
"These men were tortured and detained for four years on the basis of an
arbitrary designation of ‘enemy combatant' and died in the custody of
the United States military. They and their families should have the
right to have their claims heard at the very least," said Pardiss Kebriaei, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
"The court's decision is all the more troubling in light of recent
information that seriously undermines the official account of how these
men died, and creates an even greater urgency for transparency and
On January 18, 2010, Scott Horton reported in Harper's Magazine
the accounts of four soldiers assigned to guard the camp where the
deceased were detained at the time of their deaths. The soldiers'
eye-witness accounts, including that of a ranking Army officer who was
on senior guard duty the night of the deaths, strongly suggest that the
deceased were taken to a secret "black site" at Guantánamo on the night
of their deaths and died at that site or from events that occurred
there. The undisclosed facility was thought to have been used by the
CIA or the Joint Special Operations Command of the Defense Department
to hold and interrogate detainees at Guantánamo. The soldiers further
describe a high-level cover-up initiated by the authorities within
hours of the men's deaths, and say they were ordered by their superiors
not to speak out.
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Additional reports by Seton Hall University School of Law
analyzing the military's investigation files reveal major unanswered
questions and information gaps in the official account of the deaths,
including failures to review relevant available information and
interview material witnesses.
In June, a sixth man died at the base, Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih,
also known as Al Hanashi, a 31-year-old Yemeni who had been detained at
Guantánamo Bay since 2002.
CCR represents the families of Yasser Al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia and
Salah Al-Salami of Yemen, two men who were reportedly found dead along
with a third detainee, Mani Al-Utaybi of Saudi Arabia, in their cells
at Guantanamo on June 10, 2006. At the time of their deaths, Al-Zahrani
and Al-Salami had been detained incommunicado for more than four years
without charge. In letters found following their deaths, the men
described their conditions and abuse, including being beaten by teams
of military police known as the "Extreme Reaction Force," deprived of
sleep for up to 30 days at a time, subjected to desecration of the
Qur'an and forced shaving, and denied necessary medical care.
Al-Zahrani, who was 17 at the time of his arrest, wrote of the
"continuous oppression" of being isolated in a small cell each day and
prohibited human contact.
For more information and case documents in Al Zahrani, click here.
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for over eight years and
has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro
bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men detained
there. CCR also works with men who were formerly detained and their
families to seek justice and accountability for the abuses suffered
during their imprisonment.
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The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.