Detainees' Case Sent Back to Lower Court

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Supreme Court yesterday kept alive a lawsuit by four British citizens who had been detained as terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay and had alleged that former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials were responsible for their torture and the denial of their religious rights.

The court sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where a three-judge panel had unanimously ruled that the lawsuit could not go forward.

The justices vacated that ruling and sent it back "for further consideration in light of Boumediene v. Bush." The reference is to the Supreme Court's controversial 5 to 4 decision in June that said the detainees at the naval base in Cuba have some constitutional rights, including the right to have their imprisonment reviewed by a federal judge.

The new case involves four British citizens -- Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal al-Harith -- all of whom were captured in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. They were among the first sent to Guantanamo and were held for more than two years before being released in Britain.

The four alleged that they were beaten, stripped, threatened by dogs and shackled during their confinement. They also said they were harassed while practicing their religion, including seeing a copy of the Koran being placed in a toilet.

They alleged deprivation of their due process rights and violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

"This case presents the opportunity to recognize and enforce rights that are . . . basic and essential to human autonomy -- the right to worship and the right not to be tortured," their lawyers told the Supreme Court.

The circuit court panel had said that the men did not have constitutional rights, and that because they were aliens, they did not fall into the definition of "person" covered by the religion protection law. That decision came months before the Boumediene ruling.

The case adds to the decisions awaiting President-elect Barack Obama regarding the Bush administration's conduct during the war on terrorism. Obama said while campaigning that he wanted to close the Guantanamo Bay prison and was critical of the administration's stance on the use of torture.

In Rasul v. Myers, his administration will be faced with questions about whether and how to protect past and future government officials from such lawsuits.

Another case the Supreme Court will hear this term -- involving a Pakistani picked up in the United States and held for more than five years without being charged -- presents the incoming administration with immediate decisions about whether to endorse or change President Bush's aggressive use of executive power to detain terrorism suspects.

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