For Immediate Release
Family Members Ask Court to Reconsider Dismissal of Wrongful Death Claims from Guantánamo
NEW YORK - Last night, the families of two men who died at Guantánamo in June 2006
asked the district court in Washington, D.C. to reconsider its February
16 ruling dismissing their case, which seeks to hold federal officials
and the United States accountable for their sons' torture, arbitrary
detention, and ultimate deaths. The families' request is based on newly
discovered evidence from four soldiers, including a decorated Army
officer, who describe a cover-up by the authorities and say they were
ordered not to speak out. The soldiers' accounts were reported in
Harper's Magazine in January. The families are represented by the
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).
While the Pentagon has always maintained that the two men, along with a
third prisoner, had committed suicide in their cells, the soldiers'
first-hand accounts raise serious questions about the actual cause and
circumstances of the deaths. Their accounts strongly suggest that the
men died as the result of torture at a "black site" at Guantánamo.
Said Talal Al-Zahrani, father of one of the men who died that night,
"Mr. President, the killing of my son in the hands of his guards and
under the supervision of the administration of the detention center is
a serious and gruesome crime. It is against all human values and norms,
and whoever covers up this gruesome crime or obstructs the criminal and
judicial investigations is a co-conspirator with those who have
committed the crime itself." The full text of Mr. Al-Zahrani's statement to President Obama, the courts, and the American People is on the CCR case page.
Said CCR attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, "It took courage for these soldiers
to come forward with information that the government had every
intention of keeping secret, and the details that are emerging are
disturbing to say the least. The families of these men should not be
barred at the courthouse door without any further inquiry."
In granting a request by the government and 24 named federal officials,
including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to dismiss the
families' case, the district court accepted the defendants' argument
that national security factors should bar the constitutional claims on
behalf of the deceased, and that the alleged torture of the men, even
if "seriously criminal," was within the officials' "scope of
employment," thus barring claims asserted under the Alien Tort
Statute. The court also dismissed claims under the Federal Tort Claims
Act for breaches of the officials' basic duty of care toward the
deceased and for the emotional distress suffered by the families,
ruling that Guantanamo is a "foreign country" for the purposes of the
act and thus outside the scope of its protection. The dismissal
effectively left the families and their sons with no remedy for the
violations they asserted again U.S. officials.
The families' request for the court to reconsider its dismissal of
their claims is based on the accounts of four soldiers stationed at the
base the night the men died, which Scott Horton reported in Harper's Magazine
on January 18, 2010. 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 men were taken to a secret "black
site" at Guantánamo nicknamed "Camp No" that night, and died at that
site or from events that transpired there. The unofficial, undisclosed
facility is 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.
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 2009 Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih became the sixth person to
die at the base. He was a 31-year-old Yemeni man who had been detained
at Guantánamo since 2002.
CCR represents the families of Yasser Al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia and
Salah Al-Salami of Yemen, the two men who died at Guantánamo in June
2006 along with a third detainee, Mani Al-Utaybi of Saudi Arabia. At
the time of their deaths, Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami had been detained
incommunicado for more than four years without charge. Al-Zahrani was
17 at the time of his arrest. The families' case against the United
States and 24 named federal officials is Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld, which
is pending in the district court for the District of Columbia.
Visit the Al-Zahrani case page for more information and case documents.
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for more than eight years
and 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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