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Ruling means Gitmo detainees have no legal protection: rights group

By Daniel Tencer
Wednesday, February 17, 2010 17:08 EDT
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A federal court ruling this week that prevented the families of two dead Guantanamo detainees from seeking damages means that “no court can hear abuse and wrongful death claims from Guantanamo,” says a human-rights group.

“In dismissing the case, the district court ruled that the deceased’s constitutional claims … could not be heard in federal court,” said the Center for Constitutional Rights, in a statement released Thursday.

On Wednesday, a US district court in Washington, DC, rejected claims for damages from the families of two Guantanamo inmates who were found dead in 2006.

Salah Ahmed Al-Salami and Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, along with a third inmate, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, were found dead in their barracks with rags stuffed down their throats in June, 2006.

Al-Salami’s and Al-Zahrani’s families had sued, claiming it was “a violation of due process and cruel treatment to detain them for four years without charge while subjecting them to inhumane and degrading conditions of confinement and violent acts of torture and abuse,” according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Although their deaths were ruled suicides by the US military, subsequent investigations have cast serious doubt on that assertion.

A report from Seton Hall University Law School, released late last year, questioned how — and why — three people who hanged themselves would have managed to stuff rags down their throats before they died. Another question was why neither the guards on duty nor the paramedics who showed up were interviewed; or, for that matter, why the paramedics who showed up didn’t even ask the guards what had happened.

Last month, journalist and constitutional lawyer Scott Horton reported that four US soldiers had cast doubt on the official version of events. Horton’s report suggested that the trio were taken to a “black site” at the Guantanamo base, possibly run by the CIA, and their deaths may have been the result of the activities that took place there. The report also indicated that there may have been a concerted attempt to cover up the actual events that led to the deaths.

In their lawsuit against the United States, the families of Al-Salami and Al-Zahrani argued that the duo had been subjected to “specific methods and acts of physical and psychological torture and abuse, including sleep deprivation, prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures, invasive body searches, beatings, threats, inadequate medical treatment and religious abuse, such as forced shaving and desecration of the Quran,” according to Courthouse News.

In her decision, US District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle ruled that the inmates had been officially designated “enemy combatants” and were therefore not automatically entitled to due process in US courts. The judge also cited previous rulings which asserted that the Guantanamo facility is not on US soil, and US courts therefore have little jurisdiction over what happens there.

“These men were tortured and detained for four years on the basis of an arbitrary designation of ‘enemy combatant’ and died in the custody of the United States military,” said Pardiss Kebriaei, staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “They and their families should have the right to have their claims heard at the very least.”

Kebriaei added that “the court’s decision is all the more troubling in light of recent information that seriously undermines the official account of how these men died, and creates an even greater urgency for transparency and accountability.”

 
 
 
 
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