Rasul v. Rumsfeld Historic Case

At a Glance

Current Status 

The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the case, and, on December 14, 2009, the Supreme Court declined to review the case.

Date Filed: 

October 27, 2004

Co-Counsel 

Eric L. Lewis, A. Katherine Toomey, Sarah L. Knapp, Elizabeth A. Wilson

Client 

Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed, and Jamal Al-Harith  

Case Description 

CCR and co-counsel filed Rasul v. Rumsfeld in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of four former prisoners at Guantanamo against then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and senior military officers, for violations of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), the Fifth and Eight Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

The case alleged that Secretary Rumsfeld and the military chain of command approved interrogation practices that they knew to be in violation of U.S. and international law— including prolonged arbitrary detention; torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; cruel and unusual punishment; denial of  liberty without due process; and preventing the exercise and expression of religious beliefs.

The plaintiffs were imprisoned without charge for more than two years at Guantánamo. They were subjected to repeated beatings, sleep deprivation, extremes of hot and cold, forced nakedness, death threats, interrogations at gun point, menacing with umuzzled dogs, and religious and racial harassment.  The case sought $10 million in compensatory damages for each plaintiff. 

Rasul v. Rumsfeld was part of CCR’s broader efforts to end indefinite detention without charge or trial, achieve a just closure of Guantánamo, and ensure accountability for U.S. torture. 

The plaintiffs were Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, and Rhuhel Ahmed, three friends from a working-class town in England who have come to be known as The Tipton Three, and Jamal Al-Harith, a web designer from Manchester. The four have never been members of any terrorist group and have never taken up arms against the United States. They were released in March 2004 and returned to Britain without ever being charged with a crime. Rasul was the lead plaintiff in CCR’s landmark Supreme Court case Rasul v. Bush, in which the Court ruled that prisoners at Guantánamo have a right to judicial review of their detentions.  

Case Timeline

December 14, 2009
Supreme Court declines to review case, denying plaintiff's petition for a writ of certiorari
December 14, 2009
Supreme Court declines to review case, denying plaintiff's petition for a writ of certiorari
November 13, 2009
Government files response
November 13, 2009
Government files response

Notably, the government does not explicitly argue that Guantánamo detainees should enjoy no constitutional rights, but only notes that in its view several courts had stated as much.

August 24, 2009
CCR and co-counsel seek new review by Supreme Court
August 24, 2009
CCR and co-counsel seek new review by Supreme Court
April 24, 2009
D.C. Circuit again dismisses all claims
April 24, 2009
D.C. Circuit again dismisses all claims
March 12, 2009
Rasul plaintiffs and government file supplemental briefs in D.C. Circuit Court after remand from Supreme Court
March 12, 2009
Rasul plaintiffs and government file supplemental briefs in D.C. Circuit Court after remand from Supreme Court
December 15, 2008

Supreme Court grants cert, vacates judgment, and remands case to court of appeals for further consideration in light of Boumediene v. Bush

December 15, 2008

Supreme Court grants cert, vacates judgment, and remands case to court of appeals for further consideration in light of Boumediene v. Bush

August 22, 2008

CCR and co-counsel seek Supreme Court review

 

August 22, 2008

CCR and co-counsel seek Supreme Court review

 

The petition for writ of certiorari asks the Supreme Court to consider whether the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit erred in three major points in its decision: (1) that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not apply to detainees at Guantánamo because they are not “persons” under the Act; (2) that the Constitution does not protect the petitioners against torture, and that the respondents are immune; and (3) that the ordering of torture by the Secretary of Defense and senior military officers is within the scope of their employment. The petitioners argue that the decision by the appellate court is inconsistent with the law, including with Supreme Court precedent.

 

January 12, 2008

Appellate judge concurs but attacks majority for declaring men at Guantanamo not "persons" 

January 12, 2008

Appellate judge concurs but attacks majority for declaring men at Guantanamo not "persons" 

In a separate concurrence, Judge Janice Rogers Brown agrees with the result but attacks the majority for using a definition of person “at odds with its plain meaning.” She observes, “There is little mystery that a ‘person’ is an individual human being…as distinguished from an animal or thing.” Judge Rogers Brown concludes that the majority’s decision “leaves us with the unfortunate and quite dubious distinction of being the only court to declare those held at Guantánamo are not ‘person[s].’ This is a most regrettable holding in a case where plaintiffs have alleged high-level U.S. government officials treated them as less than human.”

January 11th, 2008

Court of appeals dismisses case in notorious opinion. 

January 11th, 2008

Court of appeals dismisses case in notorious opinion. 

On the sixth anniversary of the opening of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit dismisses the case. In a 43-page opinion, Circuit Judge Karen Lecraft Henderson finds that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute that applies by its terms to all “persons” did not apply to detainees at Guantánamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law. The Court also dismisses the men’s 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 Court finds that, even if torture and religious abuse were illegal, defendants are immune under the Constitution because they could not have reasonably known that detainees at Guantánamo had any constitutional rights.

September 14, 2007

Court of appeals hears cross-appeal

September 14, 2007

Court of appeals hears cross-appeal

The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit hears the cross-appeal in Rasul v. Rumsfeld, in which the government appeals the lower court’s decision affirming that RFRA does apply to the men detained at Guantánamo, and CCR appeals the lower court’s dismissal of the constitutional and international law claims.

May 8, 2006

District court denies defendants’ motion to dismiss RFRA claim

May 8, 2006

District court denies defendants’ motion to dismiss RFRA claim

This opinion effectively means that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) applies to the detention facilities at Guantánamo.

February 6, 2006

District court grants in part government’s motion to dismiss.

February 6, 2006

District court grants in part government’s motion to dismiss.

The D.C. District Court issues a memorandum opinion Rasul v. Rumsfeld, granting in part the government’s motion to dismiss. The decision dismisses the plaintiffs’ international law claims and the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims. The court rules that because the plaintiffs have not exhausted their administrative remedies by bringing their international law claims to an appropriate federal agency, the plaintiffs’ international law claims are not ripe. Responding to the constitutional law claims, the court holds that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity and that the proper defendant to the suit is the United States, because the defendants were acting within the scope of their employment in authorizing or condoning “aggressive interrogation techniques.”

March 16, 2005
Government files motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
March 16, 2005
Government files motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
October 27, 2004

CCR and co-counsel file Rasul v. Rumsfeld in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of four British detainees released from Guantánamo after more than two years without charge

October 27, 2004

CCR and co-counsel file Rasul v. Rumsfeld in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of four British detainees released from Guantánamo after more than two years without charge