Supreme Court refuses case on Guantanamo detainees and torture
The case of four Britons, held two years by the US, sought to clarify legal protections for Guantanamo detainees, including regarding torture and harsh government tactics. Supreme Court justices on Monday declined to hear the case.
The US Supreme Court declined on Monday to take up a major case examining whether Guantánamo detainees enjoy a constitutional right not to be subject to torture and other harsh tactics by government officials.Skip to next paragraph
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The appeal, filed on behalf of four former prisoners who were returned home to Britain in 2004, sought to gain a clear statement from America’s highest court on the scope of legal protections for those held at the US detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The four men, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed, and Jamal Al-Harith, were seeking compensatory damages and a court declaration that US officials violated American and international law – including prohibitions against torture.
“Whether United States officials are free to engage in despicable acts [at Guantánamo] in a place wholly controlled by the United States is the pre-eminent constitutional issue of our time,” wrote Washington lawyer Eric Lewis in his brief on behalf of the four men and the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“It is essential that this court lay down a strong and clear message that officially ordered torture is abhorrent and always a violation of fundamental rights,” Mr. Lewis said.
The high court rejected the appeal in a one-line order without comment. The action ends years of litigation on behalf of the former detainees. It lets stand an earlier ruling by the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissing the lawsuit.
The Obama administration opposed the litigation and had urged the high court to reject the appeal. The government argued that “special factors” related to military protection of national security preclude judicial involvement in allowing such litigation to move forward in “sensitive circumstances such as these.”
The Obama administration also argued that US officials who approved or engaged in controversial detention and interrogation tactics at Guantánamo are entitled to immunity from lawsuits.
To overcome such immunity, the plaintiffs must prove that any violated constitutional rights were “clearly established” at the time of the alleged violations.
“At the time of petitioners’ detention (between 2002 and March 2004), it was not clearly established that the Fifth and Eighth Amendments protected aliens detained abroad by the military,” US Solicitor General Elena Kagan said in her brief. Thus, US officials are entitled to immunity, she said.