Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Are Gitmo Detainees People? Maybe Not
The United States Supreme Court has refused to review a lower court's dismissal of a case brought by four British former detainees against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officers for allegedly ordering torture and religious abuse at Guantanamo. The British detainees spent more than two years in Guantanamo and were repatriated to the U.K. in 2004.
The Obama administration had asked the court not to hear the case. By refusing to hear the case, the court let stand an earlier opinion by the D.C. Circuit Court which found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute that applies by its terms to all "persons" did not apply to detainees at Guantanamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law. The lower court also dismissed the detainees' claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Geneva Conventions, finding defendants immune on the basis that "torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants." Finally, the circuit court found that, even if torture and religious abuse were illegal, defendants were immune under the Constitution because they could not have reasonably known that detainees at Guantanamo had any constitutional rights.
"It is an awful day for the rule of law and common decency when the Supreme Court lets stand such an inhuman decision," said Eric Lewis, the detainees' lead attorney.
The four former detainees - Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed, and Jamal Al-Harith - were held from 2002 to 2004 at Guantanamo before being sent home to England without being charged with any offense. They filed their case in 2004 seeking damages for alleged violations of their constitutional rights and of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits infringement of religion by the U.S. government against any person.