WASHINGTON (CN) – The D.C. Circuit has 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.
Three of the plaintiffs – Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed – had been captured in 2001, allegedly while providing humanitarian relief in Afghanistan, by an Uzbek warlord allied with the United States. They were transferred to Guantanamo until their release in 2004. Jamal Al-Harith said he was taken in Pakistan when Afghans hijacked the truck he was traveling at gunpoint and handed him over to the Taliban. He passed into U.S. custody when the Taliban fell.
Plaintiffs 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. Plaintiffs sued on violations of the Alien Tort Statute, the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The district court dismissed the constitutional claims on the basis of qualified immunity and tossed out the Alien Tort Statute and Geneva claims, but allowed the ex-detainees to pursue their claims under the RFRA and Federal Tort Claims Act.
The appeals court stripped plaintiffs of their right to sue under the RFRA, hinging its reasoning on the word “person” used in the Act, which prohibits the government from “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion.”
“Because the plaintiffs are aliens and were located outside sovereign United States territory at the time their alleged RFRA claim arose, they do not fall within the definition of ‘person,'” Judge Henderson wrote. See ruling.