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Rights group appeals dismissal of Guantanamo suicide case

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy website] on Monday appealed the dismissal of a case over two Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainees,Yasser Al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia and Salah Al-Salami of Yemen, who committed suicide while in detention in 2006. The CCR filed the appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on behalf of the two men's families to renew the civil lawsuit against the US and 24 government officials, including former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld [JURIST news archive], claiming they are responsible for arbitrary detention, torture, and the death of Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami. US military officials said the two men committed suicide [JURIST report] in June 2006 while in detention. Al-Zahrani was said to have hung himself [JURIST report] with his bed sheets and clothing. A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia District [official website] granted the defendants' motion for dismissal early last year and later denied a motion for reconsideration [JURIST reports] filed after new evidence of eye witness accounts from soldiers suggested the men died while being tortured. The CCR claims that these reports show a high-level cover-up and that the soldiers were ordered not to speak out.

The judge denied the reconsideration despite the new evidence saying it does not change the reasoning for dismissal that the "special needs of foreign affairs must stay" the court's action. The claim was originally brought [JURIST report] under the Alien Tort Claims Act [text], which provides that district courts have original jurisdiction to hear claims for torts "committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States." The defendants moved to dismiss the suit based on § 7 of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF], which removes the ability of federal courts to hear challenges to the treatment of aliens who have been "properly detained" as enemy combatants. In 2008, officials from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service [official website] said notes found in the clothes of two detainees indicated that they were seeking martyrdom. Military investigations of the suicides began [JURIST report] immediately after the men were found in their cells, and the military quickly rejected calls for independent civilian investigations. The military similarly rejected requests by the governments of Yemen and Saudi Arabia [JURIST reports] to reform the investigation process.

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