Rasul v. Rumsfeld

On January 17, 2007, CJA filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in the case of Rasul v. Rumsfeld.  The brief was authored by CJA board member William Aceves and signed by a number of human rights organizations and international law scholars.

Background

The plaintiffs in the case- Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed, three friends (pictured) from a working-class town in England, and Jamal Al-Harith, a web designer from Manchester- were imprisoned without due process for two years at Guantánamo Bay. There they were subjected to repeated beatings, sleep deprivation, extremes of hot and cold, forced nakedness, death threats, interrogations at gunpoint, menacing with un-muzzled dogs, and racial and religious harassment.  They filed suit in the District Court for the District of Columbia for arbitrary detention and torture against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and senior U.S. military officials.

More background on the case and the Tipton 3 is available on the website of CJA partner, the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The D.C. District Court ruled that U.S. officials are immune from suit under the Westfall Act, dismissed the constitutional and international law claims, and allowed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claims to proceed.  Plaintiffs appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Outcome

Our amicus brief argued that torture is prohibited by international law and as such cannot be considered an “official” government act.  Thus, we concluded that government officials who authorize torture are not protected by sovereign immunity.

On January 11, 2008, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the constitutional and international law claims, and it reversed the district court’s RFRA decision, dismissing those claims as well.

On December 15, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the plaintiffs’ petition for certiorari, vacated the judgment and remanded the case to the D.C. Court of Appeals for further consideration in light of Boumediene v. Bush.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals did not change its ruling in light of Boumediene, but it did change its logic. On April 24th, 2009, the court dismissed all claims on qualified immunity grounds, concluding that torture and racial and religious harassment were not clearly prohibited offenses at the time they were perpetrated against the plaintiffs. On December 14, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court denied plaintiffs’ subsequent petition for review.

LEGAL DOCUMENTS

CJA Amicus Brief
18 Jan 07 Amicus Brief: CJA, International Law Scholars and Human Rights Organizations
Related Documents
11 Jan 08 D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Order Dismissing Case
08 Jan 07 Plaintiffs-Appellants Opening Brief