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Court Closes Door to Families of Wrongfully Detained Men Who Died at Guantánamo

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Court Denies Compelling Evidence of Murder at Secret Site

CONTACT: press@ccrjustice.org

September 29, 2010 Washington and New York – Today, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia affirmed its decision to dismiss Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld, a civil lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel concerning the deaths of three Guantánamo prisoners in June 2006, despite newly-available evidence from soldiers stationed at the base at the time of the deaths that strongly suggest the men were killed at a black site at Guantánamo and a government cover-up of the true cause and circumstances of the deaths. The government reported the deaths as suicides.

“No one can compensate me for the loss of my son; no one can bring him back to me,” said Talal Al-Zahrani, father of Yasser Al-Zahrani. “But the court’s refusal to hear my son’s case is devastating and deepens my family’s pain. The courts should be investigating my son’s death and holding those responsible accountable. President Obama should be defending human rights and the democratic values the U.S. preaches to the world, rather than going to court to defend the lies and gruesome crimes of the Bush administration.”

The case, filed on behalf of the families of two of the deceased, Yasser Al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia and Salah Ali Abdullah Ahmed Al-Salami of Yemen, charged the government and 24 federal officials with responsibility for the men’s abuse, wrongful detention and ultimate deaths. Earlier this year, the court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, holding that national security considerations prevented the court from hearing the families’ claims. Following the dismissal, the families filed a motion for reconsideration on the basis of the evidence from the soldiers, as reported by Scott Horton in Harper’s Magazine in January 2010, arguing that the new facts compelled the court to reopen the case.

While noting that “‘it is, as plaintiffs argue, ‘disturb[ing]’ that defendants allegedly ‘fought to keep secret virtually all information concerning the cause and circumstances of Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami’s deaths’ and that ‘details of an elaborate, high-level cover-up of likely homicide at a ‘black site’ at Guantanamo’ are now emerging,’” the court’s decision today held that national security considerations still bar it from considering the families’ claims, and that the defendants’ alleged involvement in the murder of Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami was still within the scope of their employment.

“The very secrecy of Guantánamo is what allowed the government to torture and illegally imprison innocent men there for years, as we now know from leaked government memos, whistleblowers, and repeated wins in court in detainees’ habeas cases,” said CCR Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, lead counsel in the case. “Yet the court’s decision today allows secrecy to continue to shroud the truth about these deaths, in the face of compelling evidence of a four-year cover-up of murder.”

The suit was brought by CCR and co-counsel William Goodman of Goodman & Hurwitz, P.C. and the International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) at the Washington College of Law. The decision, the complaint, the government briefs and other court documents, as well as video of Mr. Talal Zahrani addressing the U.S. government, courts and people regarding his son’s death can be found on CCR’s legal case page.

CCR has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for the last eight years, filing the first case on behalf of the men detained establishing the right of all Guantánamo detainees to challenge the legality of their detention, and organizing more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country to provide legal representation to the men at Guantánamo.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.