Detention & Guantanamo

Government Files Brief in D.C. Circuit Gitmo Detainee Civil Case

By Lauren Bateman
Monday, November 18, 2013, 10:35 AM

The government has filed its brief in Al Laithi v. Rumsfeld and Celikgogus v. Rumsfeld, a case involving the consolidated claims of former Guantanamo detainees against former government officials in their individual capacities. The detainees seek civil damages, alleging that their detentions had violated international law, the Constitution, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Holding that these types of claims had already been rejected by the D.C. Circuit in Rasul v. Myers I and Rasul v. Myers II, Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia had dismissed the suit on February 1, 2013.

In its filing, the government frames the questions presented as follows:
1) Whether the individual defendants entitled to qualified immunity under the Bivens and § 1985 claims.
2) Should a Bivens cause of action be recognized in this military-detention context.
3) Whether the United States properly substituted itself for the defendants under the Westfall Act on plaintiffs' claims alleging violations of international law.
4) Whether plaintiffs' Religious Freedom Restoration Act claims were properly dismissed.
Arguing that the dismissal of the constitutional claims and the § 1985 claims should be dismissed, the government writes that "it was not clearly established during plaintiffs’ detention (which ended on dates ranging from November 2003 to November 2006) that aliens in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo possessed any First and Fifth Amendment rights." As for the international law claims, the government alleges that "[t]he district court correctly held that the United States properly substituted itself under the Westfall Act for the individual named defendants on plaintiffs’ international-law claims because the named defendants were acting within the 'scope of their employment' at the time of the incidents alleged in the complaints." Finally, the government argues that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claims are invalid because the Rasul II decision interpreted RFRA such that "aliens at Guantanamo are not 'persons' protected by the statute."
Several of the detainees' claims are nearly identical to those in Al Janko v. Gates, for which the D.C. Circuit has heard oral argument but has not yet rendered a decision.
The detainees' reply brief is due December 18, 2013.