DC Circuit again rejects suit by former UK Guantanamo detainees

[JURIST] A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit [official website] rejected [opinion, PDF] Friday a lawsuit by four UK citizens and former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees against former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld [JURIST news archive] and other military officials. The court's opinion in affirmed in part district court decision dismissing illegal detention and mistreatment charges under the Alien Tort Statute [text], the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials], and the Fifth and Eighth Amendments [text] of the US Constitution against Rumsfeld and other military officials, and reversed the lower court's decision to reject a motion for dismissal of two additional charges against the defendants. The ruling comes after the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] vacated and remanded to the district court [JURIST report] the DC Circuit's 2008 decision in the same case, which also dismissed the lawsuit against Rumsfeld and the other defendants. In vacating and remanding the first case, the Supreme Court ordered the district court to reexamine the lawsuit in light of the Court's July decision in Boumediene v. Bush [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. While the district court found that Boumediene applied to two of the charges, the DC Circuit rejected the lawsuit on the grounds that the actions taken by the defendants were not illegal at the time they were committed. Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote:

There is another reason why we should not decide whether Boumediene portends application of the Due Process Clause and the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause to Guantanamo detainees – and it is on this ground we will rest our decision on remand. The doctrine of qualified immunity shields government officials from civil liability to the extent their alleged misconduct "does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." ...

Our vacated opinion explained why qualified immunity insulates the defendants from plaintiffs’ Bivens claims. ... Boumediene does not affect what we wrote. No reasonable government official would have been on notice that plaintiffs had any Fifth Amendment or Eighth Amendment rights. At the time of their detention, neither the Supreme Court nor this court had ever held that aliens captured on foreign soil and detained beyond sovereign U.S. territory had any constitutional rights — under the Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment, or otherwise. The Court in Boumediene recognized just that: “It is true that before today the Court has never held that noncitizens detained by our Government in territory over which another country maintains de jure sovereignty have any rights under our Constitution.” [citation omitted]
UK citizens Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed, and Jamal Al-Harith were released from Guantanamo in March 2004. In May 2004, Rasul and Iqbal said in an open letter to US President George W. Bush that they had suffered abuse at Guantanamo [JURIST report] similar to that perpetrated at Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive] prison in Iraq. The Center for Constitutional Rights [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] on their behalf in October 2004 against Rumsfeld, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Meyers, and others alleging [complaint] "deliberate and foreseeable action taken ... to flout or evade the United States Constitution, federal statutory law, United States treaty obligations and long established norms of customary international law."

 

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