March 17, 2010, New York – Last night, the families of two men who died at Guantánamo in June 2006 asked the district court in Washington, D.C. to reconsider its February 16 ruling dismissing their case, which seeks to hold federal officials and the United States accountable for their sons’ torture, arbitrary detention, and ultimate deaths. The families’ request is based on newly discovered evidence from four soldiers, including a decorated Army officer, who describe a cover-up by the authorities and say they were ordered not to speak out. The soldiers’ accounts were reported in Harper’s Magazine in January. The families are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR).
While the Pentagon has always maintained that the two men, along with a third prisoner, had committed suicide in their cells, the soldiers’ first-hand accounts raise serious questions about the actual cause and circumstances of the deaths. Their accounts strongly suggest that the men died as the result of torture at a “black site” at Guantánamo.
Said Talal Al-Zahrani, father of one of the men who died that night, “Mr. President, the killing of my son in the hands of his guards and under the supervision of the administration of the detention center is a serious and gruesome crime. It is against all human values and norms, and whoever covers up this gruesome crime or obstructs the criminal and judicial investigations is a co-conspirator with those who have committed the crime itself.” The full text of Mr. Al-Zahrani’s statement to President Obama, the courts, and the American People is on the CCR case page.
Said CCR attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, “It took courage for these soldiers to come forward with information that the government had every intention of keeping secret, and the details that are emerging are disturbing to say the least. The families of these men should not be barred at the courthouse door without any further inquiry.”
In granting a request by the government and 24 named federal officials, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to dismiss the families’ case, the district court accepted the defendants’ argument that national security factors should bar the constitutional claims on behalf of the deceased, and that the alleged torture of the men, even if “seriously criminal,” was within the officials’ “scope of employment,” thus barring claims asserted under the Alien Tort Statute. The court also dismissed claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act for breaches of the officials’ basic duty of care toward the deceased and for the emotional distress suffered by the families, ruling that Guantanamo is a “foreign country” for the purposes of the act and thus outside the scope of its protection. The dismissal effectively left the families and their sons with no remedy for the violations they asserted again U.S. officials.
The families’ request for the court to reconsider its dismissal of their claims is based on the accounts of four soldiers stationed at the base the night the men died, which Scott Horton reported in Harper’s Magazine on January 18, 2010. The soldiers’ eye-witness accounts, including that of a ranking Army officer who was on senior guard duty the night of the deaths, strongly suggest that the men were taken to a secret “black site” at Guantánamo nicknamed “Camp No” that night, and died at that site or from events that transpired there. The unofficial, undisclosed facility is thought to have been used by the CIA or the Joint Special Operations Command of the Defense Department to hold and interrogate detainees at Guantánamo. The soldiers further describe a high-level cover-up initiated by the authorities within hours of the men’s deaths, and say they were ordered by their superiors not to speak out.
Additional reports by Seton Hall University School of Law analyzing the military’s investigation files reveal major unanswered questions and information gaps in the official account of the deaths, including failures to review relevant available information and interview material witnesses.
In June 2009 Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih became the sixth person to die at the base. He was a 31-year-old Yemeni man who had been detained at Guantánamo since 2002.
CCR represents the families of Yasser Al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia and Salah Al-Salami of Yemen, the two men who died at Guantánamo in June 2006 along with a third detainee, Mani Al-Utaybi of Saudi Arabia. At the time of their deaths, Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami had been detained incommunicado for more than four years without charge. Al-Zahrani was 17 at the time of his arrest. The families’ case against the United States and 24 named federal officials is Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld, which is pending in the district court for the District of Columbia.
Visit the Al-Zahrani case page for more information and case documents.
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for more than eight years and been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men detained there. CCR also works with men who were formerly detained and their families to seek justice and accountability for the abuses suffered during their imprisonment.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.