Friday, December 25, 2009

U.S. High Court Rejects Appeal Alleging Torture at Guantanamo

By Greg Stohr

Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court refused to revive a lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other military leaders by four British men who said they were tortured while imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.

The justices today rejected an appeal by the former inmates, leaving intact a lower court ruling that shielded the government officials from suit.

Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal al-Harith said they were beaten, stripped, threatened by dogs, subjected to extreme temperatures and deprived of adequate food, water and sleep. Each was captured in Afghanistan or Pakistan, held for more than two years at Guantanamo, then flown home to England and released in 2004.

“The torture and religious humiliation of Muslim detainees at Guantanamo stands as a uniquely shameful episode in our history,” the four men said in their appeal.

The men sought to press claims under the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Conventions and several federal statutes, including one that protects religious freedom. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia twice threw out the suits.

After the first ruling, the Supreme Court ordered reconsideration in light of a just-issued high court decision that said Guantanamo prisoners had the right to file so-called habeas corpus petitions seeking relief.

No Damages

The lower court then said in April that the officials couldn’t be sued for damages because the alleged torture took place before the Supreme Court had declared that the Constitution covered inmates at Guantanamo, which is on Cuban sovereign territory.

At that time, “it was not clearly established that the Fifth and Eighth Amendments protected aliens detained abroad by the military,” U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan argued.

Rasul, Iqbal and Ahmed said in court papers that they were in Afghanistan to help provide humanitarian relief after the 2001 war against the Taliban. According to the lawsuit, they were captured by a warlord who turned them over to the U.S. military in exchange for a bounty.

Al-Harith said he was in Pakistan for a religious retreat when he was kidnapped and turned over to the Taliban in Afghanistan. When the Taliban fled, U.S. forces arrived at the prison and took him into custody, according to the suit.

They alleged that they were unable to fulfill their daily obligation as Muslims to pray. They said they were subjected to loud rock music, shackled in ways that prevented them from assuming the required posture and forced to be naked while praying, violating the Muslim tenet of modesty.

Some of the men also said they saw a copy of the Koran being thrown into a toilet bucket. Rumsfeld has denied that allegation, which sparked deadly rioting in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries in 2005.

The case is Rasul v. Myers, 09-227.