DC Circuit affirms dismissal of Guantanamo detainee wrongful death suit

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Tuesday affirmed [opinion, PDF] the dismissal of wrongful death claims by the families of two former Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder] detainees, Yasser Al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia and Salah Al-Salami of Yemen, who committed suicide while in detention in 2006. The families filed a civil lawsuit against the US and 24 government officials, including former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld [JURIST news archive], claiming they were responsible for arbitrary detention, torture and the death of Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami. Ruling on an appeal [JURIST report] brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website], the court held that they lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to the jurisdictional bar created by the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [text, PDF]. The court held:

that [MCA] deprives this court of jurisdiction over appellants' claims. We further hold that the Supreme Court did not declare [MCA] unconstitutional in Boumediene and the provision retains vitality to bar those claims. We therefore conclude that the decision of the District Court dismissing the claims should be affirmed, although for a lack of jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) rather than for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).
Al-Zahrani was said to have hung himself [JURIST report] with his bed sheets and clothing.

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia District [official website] granted the motion for dismissal in Feburary 2010 and later denied a motion for reconsideration [JURIST reports] filed after new evidence of eye witness accounts from soldiers suggested the men died while being tortured. The judge denied the reconsideration despite the new evidence saying it does not change the reasoning for dismissal that the "special needs of foreign affairs must stay" the court's action. The claim was originally brought [JURIST report] under the Alien Tort Claims Act [text], which provides that district courts have original jurisdiction to hear claims for torts "committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States." The defendants moved to dismiss the suit based on § 7 of the MCA, which removes the ability of federal courts to hear challenges to the treatment of aliens who have been "properly detained" as enemy combatants. In 2008, officials from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service [official website] said notes found in the clothes of two detainees indicated that they were seeking martyrdom. Military investigations of the suicides began [JURIST report] immediately after the men were found in their cells, and the military quickly rejected calls for independent civilian investigations. The military similarly rejected requests by the governments of Yemen and Saudi Arabia [JURIST reports] to reform the investigation process.

 

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