US Court: Guantanamo detainees 'have no right to sue Pentagon
Herald and Weekly Times (AU)
January 12, 2008

A US appeals court ruled that four former Guantanamo prisoners, all British citizens, had no right to sue top Pentagon officials for torture and violations of their religious rights.

The decision by a three-judge panel to dismiss the lawsuit was issued on the sixth anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The prison, which has been widely criticised by human rights advocates, now holds about 275 prisoners. President George W. Bush has acknowledged the prison's damage to the US image and has said he would like to see it closed eventually.

The four who brought the lawsuit - Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal al-Harith - were released from Guantanamo in 2004 after being held for more than two years.

Their suit sought $US10 million ($A11.18 million) in damages and named then-Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and 10 military commanders.

It claimed the men were subjected to various forms of torture, harassed as they practiced their religion and forced to shave their religious beards. In one instance, a guard threw a Koran in a toilet bucket, according to the lawsuit.

A federal judge dismissed the constitutional and international law claims, but ruled the former detainees could pursue their claims of religious rights violations.

The appeals court, in an opinion written by Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, ruled that the entire lawsuit must be dismissed.

She upheld the dismissal of the constitutional and international law claims, citing a lack of subject matter jurisdiction and ruling the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity and could not be sued as individuals for acts taken within the scope of their government jobs.

On the religious rights claims, the judge ruled the prisoners were not covered by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because they "are aliens and were located outside sovereign United States territory" at the time of the alleged violations.

She agreed with the Bush administration, which argued the religious rights law does not cover foreign citizens abroad.

In a separate ruling, the appeals court rejected a group's efforts to obtain information about the advice non-government lawyers had given the Defence Department regarding regulations for trials of Guantanamo prisoners.

In 2001, Mr Bush issued an order establishing military commissions to try suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo.

The Pentagon then issued regulations for the trials, after consulting a number of former high-ranking government officials and academic experts. A group called the National Institute of Military Justice sued seeking access to those recommendations.

In a 2-1 opinion, the appeals court held that the records of the advice were exempt from disclosure under the freedom of information law.

Original Text