Wednesday, February 24, 2010

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

Center for Constitutional Rights

February 17, 2010, New York – Yesterday evening, the district court in Washington, D.C. ruled against two men who died in Guantanamo 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.

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