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Ruling: No Court Can Hear Abuse and Wrongful Death Claims from Guantánamo

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February 17, 2010

Center for Constitutional Justice

Contact: press [at] ccrjustice.org

New York — Yesterday evening, the district court in Washington, D.C. ruled against two men who died in Guantánamo 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 inadequate.

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 accountability.”

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.

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 Guantánamo 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 Guantánamo 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.

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.

Ed. Note: SUPPORT CCR!!!


SEE ALSO, at CCR:

[Ed. Note: Because a representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center gave testimony to Congressional committee that we (9/11 truth advocates) are essentially 'jihadists',
and that we and our websites call for violence, which is an outrageous falsehood, (see stories here, here and here), this story is particularly noteworthy to our readers. Ironically, Simon Wiesenthal said, as quoted at their site, “Freedom is not a gift from heaven… you must fight for it every day.” That’s what we’re doing. And so is the CCR,
which has been extremely vigilant in working to protect the rights of
everyone.
In fact, they were at the forefront in fighting the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act (championed by Jane Harmon and Joe Lieberman and originally passed overwhelmingly, 405-6 in the House but shut down in Senate committee). A particularly well-phrased quote from former CIA analyst Philip Giraldi sums up our views well:

The view that 9/11 has “changed everything” is unfortunately all too true. It has unleashed American paranoia, institutionalized mistrust of foreigners, and created a fantasy universe in which a US beset by enemies must do anything and everything to counter the alien threat. If it were a sane world, it would be difficult to imagine why anyone would believe that a Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act is even necessary. The United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in strengthening law enforcement and intelligence capabilities against terrorists and has every tool imaginable to investigate and make arrests. It has created a whole new bloated and dysfunctional branch of government in the Department of Homeland Security. What is not needed is groups of congressionally empowered vigilantes roaming the country at will looking for “homegrown terrorism.” (Giraldi at Huffington Post)

Erasing the Past: The Destruction of an Ancient Muslim Cemetery in Jerusalem

The Israeli government and the Simon Weisenthal Center are currently building a “Museum of Tolerance” on top of an ancient Muslim burial ground in Jerusalem. The musuem’s construction has resulted in the disinterment of hundreds of graves. On February 10, 2010, CCR filed a petition to several international bodies on behalf of descendants of those buried in the cemetery.

Download the factsheet to learn more about the Mamilla Cemetery, the rights of the descendents, and the petition to stop the “Center for Human Dignity–Museum of Tolerance”.