A federal appeals court in Washington today rejected a suit that demanded the government pay damages to the representatives of two Guantanamo Bay detainees who died in custody.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld the dismissal of the suit. But the appeals court did not reach the merits of the case, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in January 2009.
Rather, a three-judge panel said the trial judge, Ellen Segal Huvelle, did not have jurisdiction to hear the dispute in the first place. Huvelle ruled for the Justice Department in February 2010. Huvelle's opinion is here.
Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights, in New York, who represented the estates of the detainees, was not immediately reached for comment this afternoon. The Justice Department's Robert Loeb argued in the D.C. Circuit for the federal defendants.
Yasser Al-Zahrani Jr., a citizen of Saudi Arabia, and Salah Ali Abdullah Ahmed Al-Salami Jr. of Yemen, were detained as alleged enemy combatants beginning in early 2002. Both men, in addition to a third person also in custody, died in June 2006.
The cause of death of Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami is in dispute in the litigation, the appeals court said. A Naval criminal investigator attributed the death to suicide by hanging.
Lawyers for the estates of the two former detainees question the circumstances surrounding the deaths. The complaint sought damages for “prolonged arbitrary detention, torture and cruel treatment.”
D.C. Circuit Chief Judge David Sentelle, writing for the appellate panel, said the Military Commissions Act of 2006 bars any suit relating to detention, transfer and treatment that is not a habeas corpus action.
Sentelle, sitting with senior circuit judges Stephen Williams and A. Raymond Randolph, said the suit “rather plainly constitutes an action other than habeas corpus” brought against the United States.
“This ends the litigation and requires that we affirm the dismissal of the action,” Sentelle wrote.