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Federal Appeals Court Rejects Torture Victims’ Suit (Again)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled today (pdf) that four British men who say they were tortured while imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay have no right to seek damages from U.S. government officials.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the ten other senior military officials named in the lawsuit have immunity, the court ruled, because “[n]o reasonable government official would have been on notice that plaintiffs had any Fifth Amendment or Eighth Amendment rights.” Although the Supreme Court ruled last June in Boumediene v. Bush that detainees at Guantanamo have the right to habeas corpus, the court today ruled that “At the time of their detention, neither the Supreme Court nor this court had ever held that aliens captured on foreign soil and detained beyond sovereign U.S. territory had any constitutional rights…”

The case, Rasul v. Myers, which I’ve written about here and here, was on remand from the Supreme Court, which had instructed the D.C. Circuit to reconsider its previous ruling dismissing the case in light of the high court’s decision in Boumediene. To the dismay of many civil rights advocates, the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, insisted that even if the men were tortured, the case should be dismissed because U.S. government officials could not have known at the time that they were violating established rights, so they’re entitled to immunity.

The D.C. district court that initially heard this case had similarly dismissed the constitutional claims, but ruled that the four former prisoners had rights to sue under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because they hadn’t been allowed to practice their religion and their Korans had been desecrated. The appellate court today reaffirmed its earlier decision that because the men are “aliens” and not residents of the United States, they are not “persons” entitled to protection under the statute.

Reached this afternoon, Katherine Toomey, a lawyer at the firm Baach Robinson & Lewis, which is representing the four British men along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said that the lawyers are now considering whether to ask for a re-hearing by the full court of appeals, or to seek review again in the Supreme Court.

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