February 21, 2014, Washington, DC – A federal appeals court heard argument today on a civil lawsuit brought by six men formerly held at Guantánamo who were wrongly detained and abused while at the prison. The suit, one of the few Guantánamo damages suits still being litigated, was brought against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other military officials for the torture, religious abuse and other mistreatment of plaintiffs. A lower court dismissed the suit last year, holding primarily that the law in the federal courts left it unclear whether torture and religious abuse were prohibited at the time, despite the fact that, in some cases, the men were held and abused for two years after the Supreme Court’s first ruling in favor of the detainees.
“These men suffered terrible abuse at Guantánamo. And that some of the abuse occurred after they had been determined not to be enemy combatants is even more shocking. These men deserve the chance to have their case heard and to have their suffering acknowledged,” said Russell P. Cohen of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, who argued the case.
In a number of previous cases the D.C. Circuit has ruled that immunity doctrines apply to shield the actions of government officials who abused Guantánamo detainees while they were suspected of being enemy combatants. The Supreme Court has thus far declined to hear appeals from those holdings. Three of the plaintiffs in today’s case, however, were abused even after they were found to not be enemy combatants. In fact, the government negotiated with allies to resettle some of the men as refugees, even while continuing to abuse them in detention.
One Uzbek plaintiff, Zakirjan Hasam, was subject to all of the worst abuses inflicted on Guantánamo detainees after he was found by a military (CSRT) panel to not be an “enemy combatant”: he was placed in solitary confinement (against a military psychologist’s advice), subjected to sleep deprivation, prevented from praying, forcibly shaved, and medicated against his will. When he was finally sent to Albania as a refugee, 23 months after the military panel’s ruling, he was sent shackled and bound to his seat. He continues to live in poverty there.
Another plaintiff, Sami Allaithi, could walk when he was brought to Guantánamo, but left in a wheelchair. He was routinely beaten, his Koran desecrated, his beard shaved, and his religion mocked -- all after he was found to not be an “enemy combatant” by a military panel. Now living with family in Egypt, he remains immobilized and in great pain.
The other plaintiffs are an Algerian doctor, taken from his pregnant wife and five children in Pakistan in 2002 and eventually sent to Albania as a refugee in 2006 (two years after his military panel found he was not an “enemy combatant”), and three Turkish men released before the military even provided CSRT panels to detainees.
“These men’s lives were irreparably damaged at Guantánamo. The U.S. government acknowledges they were wrongly imprisoned for years yet refuses to compensate them and help them rebuild their lives,” said Shayana Kadidal, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Guantánamo may close one day, but as long as the Obama administration refuses to apologize in any way for what happened there, these men will carry their scars forever.”
CCR’s co-counsel on the case are Russell P. Cohen, Jason Cabot, Bob Rosenfeld, and Howard Ullmann of Orrick LLP’s San Francisco office. The case was argued by Mr. Cohen. For more information on this case, visit CCR’s case page