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D.C. Circuit Again Tosses Gitmo Torture Claims

(CN) - For the second time, the D.C. Circuit ruled against four former Guantanamo detainees who claimed they were systematically tortured during their two-year detention at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. Four British plaintiffs claimed they were "beaten, shackled in painful stress positions, threatened by dogs, subjected to extreme temperatures and deprived of adequate sleep, food, sanitation, medical care and communication."

They said guards scorned their religion by forcing them to shave their beards, banning or interrupting prayers, denying copies of the Koran and prayer mats, and throwing a copy of the Koran in a toilet.

Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal Al-Harith sued former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and several high-ranking military officers, claiming government and military officials were well aware that the treatment of detainees constituted torture.

In January 2008, a three-judge panel rejected their claims, basing its decision on the definition of a "person" under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which bars the government from "substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion." The panel held that because the prisoners were outside U.S. territory at the time, they did not fall within the law's definition of a "person."

The U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back for reconsideration in light of its landmark ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, which granted Gitmo prisoners the right to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts.

On remand, the D.C. Circuit came to the same conclusion: the prisoners could not sue the government for alleged mistreatment that occurred before the high court's ruling.

"In short, there was no authority for - and ample authority against - plaintiffs' asserted rights at the time of the alleged misconduct," the federal appeals court wrote.

Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote separately, saying she agreed with the decision but disagreed that the term "person" limits the scope of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Brown said she didn't think Congress would define the term as anything other than its plain meaning of an individual human being.

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