The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also ruled that torture is a “foreseeable consequence” of military detention in dismissing the action brought by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal Al-Harith, who spent more than two years in Guantánamo and were repatriated to the U.K. in 2004.
In a 43-page opinion, Circuit Judge Karen Lecraft Henderson found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute that applies by its terms to all “persons” did not apply to detainees at Guantánamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law.
The Court also dismissed the detainees’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Geneva Conventions, finding defendants immune on the basis that “torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants,” and ruled that even if torture and religious abuse were illegal, defendants were immune under the Constitution because they could not have reasonably known that detainees at Guantánamo had any constitutional rights.
Judge Janice Rogers Brown agreed with the result but attacked the majority for using a definition of person “at odds with its plain meaning.”
“There is little mystery that a ‘person’ is an individual human being…as distinguished from an animal or thing.” she added and concluded that majority’s decision “leaves us with the unfortunate and quite dubious distinction of being the only court to declare those held at Guantánamo are not ‘person[s].’ This is a most regrettable holding in a case where plaintiffs have alleged high-level U.S. government officials treated them as less than human.”
“We are disappointed that the D.C. Circuit has not held Secretary Rumsfeld and the chain of command accountable for torture at Guantánamo,” Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, co-counsel on the case, commented. “The entire world recognizes that torture and religious humiliation are never permissible tools for a government. We hope that the Supreme Court will make clear that this country does not tolerate torture or abuse by an unfettered executive.”