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Updated 08/25/2006

Court Cases

Supreme Court rules in a series of detainee lawsuits

The Supreme Court ruled on a series of cases related to detentions in the war on terror. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the court ruled that a U.S. citizen must be given the right to challenge their enemy combatant status. The Rasul v. Bush decision gave Guantánamo  Bay detainees the right to challenge their detentions in federal courts under habeas corpus petitions. The final case, Padilla v. Rumsfeld, involved the arrest of a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. However, the court declined to rule, stating that the lawsuit was initially filed in the wrong court. [For more information: MISF, Restoring Basic Rights: The U.S. Supreme Court Decisions Regarding “War on Terror” Detainees]

Torture victims sue corporate contractors 

On behalf of plaintiffs tortured at Abu Ghraib, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit in U.S. District Court against Titan Corporation and CACI International Inc. The lawsuit charged that Titan and CACI contractors working for the U.S. government engaged in illegal conduct. [Center for Constitutional Rights, “Docket: Saleh v. Titan”]

Four British citizens sue Rumsfeld for torture  

In October 2004, four British citizens who were detained for two years at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others for arbitrary detention and torture. None of the detainees had been members of any terrorist group; they were released in March 2004 and returned to Great Britain without ever being charged with a crime. [Center for Constitutional Rights, "Docket: Rasul v. Rumsfeld"]

Federal judge declares Guantánamo commissions invalid 

On Nov. 8, 2004, a federal judge ruled that the military commissions determining the guilt or innocence of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, violated military and civilian law. The commissions stopped as a result of the hearing, and the government appealed the decision. [Washington Post, 9/9/04]

Iraqis file criminal complaint against U.S. for torture  

On Nov. 30, 2004, the Center for Constitutional Rights and four Iraqi citizens filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Prosecutor's Office, seeking an investigation into the responsibility of high-ranking U.S. officials for torture committed in Iraq. The German prosecutor dismissed the case in February 2005, days before a scheduled visit by Secretary of Defense Donal Rumsfeld. The plaintiffs appealed. [Center for Constitutional Rights]

Evidence gained through torture admissible at military tribunals

Government attorney Brian Boyle acknowledged in U.S. District Court on Dec. 2, 2004 that evidence gained through torture may be used in the military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The hearings were related to habeas corpus petitions filed after the Supreme Court decision in Rasul v. Bush. [AP, 12/3/04]

Army prison guard charged in Abu Ghraib scandal found guilty

On Jan. 15, 2005, former Army prison guard Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr. was found guilty on all counts related to detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib. He was sentenced to 10 years in a military stockade, demoted to private, and dishonorably discharged. Other soldiers convicted in the Abu Ghraib scandal included Pte. Jeremy Sivits (1 year), Sgt. Ivan Frederick (8 years), Spec. Sabrina Harman (6 months, bad conduct discharge), Spec. Meghan Ambuhl (discharged, no prison time) and Pfc. Lynndie England (3 years, dishonorable discharge). All are low-ranking soldiers. [Washington Post, 1/16/05]

Former Iraqi and Afghani detainees file suit alleging torture

On March 1, 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First and others filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court against Defense Secretary Donald Rumfeld on behalf of eight torture victims from Iraq and Afghanistan. The suit alleges that Rumsfeld bears direct responsibility for abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody. [ACLU, 3/1/05]

Military prosecutors complain that tribunals are unfair

Confidential emails, mainly from March 2004 and later obtained by the New York Times, among the prosecution team of the military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, show that two senior prosecutors complained that the tribunals were arranged to be sympathetic to the prosecution, that judges were “handpicked” by the prosecution, and that evidence helpful to the defendant—including evidence of torture—was “lost” or withheld. [NY Times, 8/1/05]

Lawyers ask Supreme Court to block military tribunals

On Aug. 8, 2005, lawyers for a Guantánamo detainee asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling by an appeals court that allowed the military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to continue. [AP, 8/9/05]

Pentagon changes tribunals in response to criticism 

On Aug. 31, 2005, the Pentagon announced changes to the military tribunals at Guantánamo intended to subdue criticisms that they violate national and international law. The main revision involved separating the duties of military lawyers who formerly assumed the roles of both judge and jury. Critics said the changes were not substantive. [U.S. Defense Dept, 8/31/05; Human Rights First press release; 9/2/05]

Appeals court rules U.S. citizen can be held as enemy combatant

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled on Sept. 9, 2005, that President Bush had the authority under Congressional legislation passed after Sept. 11, 2001, to detain U.S. citizen Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant. [Washington Post, 9/10/05]

Senate legislation denies habeas corpus rights to detainees 

The Senate voted 49-42 to strip Guantánamo detainees of their right to file habeas corpus petitions in U.S. federal courts. If passed, the law would limit detainees’ legal rights to narrow procedural challenges related to their enemy combatant status. The law would nullify the Supreme Court decision Rasul v. Bush, which allowed detainees to file habeas corpus suits in federal court. [NY Times, 11/11/05]

Senate gives detainees right of appeal  

On Nov. 10, 2005, the Senate passed an amendment that would allow Guantánamo Bay detainees to appeal their convictions if sentenced to the death penalty or more than 10 years in prison. The appeals would be heard in federal court. Under the legislation, detainees could also challenge their status as enemy combatants in federal court. These legal avenues would be available to the detainees in lieu of habeas corpus petitions. [NY Times, 11/11/05]

In legal shift, government indicts Padilla

In a significant shift from previous legal arguments, the United States criminally indicted Jose Padilla, an American citizen who has been held for over three years as an enemy combatant. The indictment, announced on Nov. 23, 2005, is a reversal of the administration’s former insistence that Padilla could be held indefinitely and without charges. [The Nation, 11/23/05]

Federal judge says keeping detainees’ names secret is not protecting their privacy

A federal judge presiding over a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit ruled on Jan. 4, 2006, that the government could not keep the names of Guantánamo detainees secret in order to ensure their privacy rights. The judge did not go so far as to order the government to release the names. [Reuters, 01/04/06]

Ambiguous language in new habeas corpus legislation causes disagreement

Sen. Carl Levin, one of the authors of a legislation that prohibits Guantánamo detainees from filing habeas corpus petitions in U.S. courts, criticized the Bush administration for using the law in an attempt to dismiss all pending habeas corpus lawsuits. Levin believes the law, known as the Detainee Treatment Act, applies only to new cases. The bill’s other sponsor, Sen. Lindsey Graham, disagreed with Levin, saying the law applies to all pending cases. President Bush signed the law on Dec. 30, 2005. [Washington Post, 01/05/06]

Guantánamo military trials resume

The military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, resumed in January 2006 despite fresh criticisms and uncertain legality. One of the first detainees to be tried was arrested at age 15. [Agence France-Presse, 01/11/06]

Former American enemy combatant pleads not guilty in civilian court 

Jose Padilla, an American citizen who was labeled an enemy combatant by the Bush administration and held for over three years without charge, pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges in a Florida court on Jan. 12, 2006. [AP, 01/12/06]

Former commander declines to testify in abuse case 

On Jan. 12, 2006, a spokesperson for Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of the Guantánamo Bay detention center and a commander in Iraq, announced that Miller had invoked military Article 31—akin to pleading the Fifth Amendment—and would not testify further in a case involving abuse at Abu Ghraib. [Washington Post, 01/12/06]

Bush administration asks court to dismiss high-stakes case 

Bush administration lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss a case involving the legality of military tribunals for detainees, arguing that the recently passed Detainee Treatment Act eliminates the court’s jurisdiction over the case. [Washington Post, 01/13/06]

Two groups file lawsuits to end NSA spying program 

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed separate lawsuits in federal courts in an attempt to end the National Security Agency’s spying program, approved by President Bush after Sept. 11, 2001. The groups say the warrantless spying program is illegal and unconstitutional, and they are calling for its immediate cessation. [Truthout press release, 01/17/06]

Interrogator who used “sleeping bag technique” acquitted of murder charges 

Army interrogator Lewis Welshofer was found guilty on Jan. 21, 2006, of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty for killing an Iraqi general during an interrogation. He was acquitted of murder and assault and will serve no prison time. Welshofer used the so-called “sleeping bad technique” in which a subject is put head-first into a sleeping bag, leaving only a hole at the bottom for air. Welshofer then sat on the victim’s chest. [LA Times, 01/20/06; NY Times, 01/23/06]

Federal judge rules government must release detainees’ identities 

A federal judge ruled on Jan. 23, 2006, that the government must release the identities of prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay. The ruling was the result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Associated Press. The government is expected to appeal. [AP, 01/23/06]

Lawsuit filed against AT&T for involvement in domestic spying  

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed suit against AT&T on Jan. 31, 2006, for their alleged cooperation with the National Security Agency’s warantless spying program on Americans and others living in the United States. [CNET News, 01/21/06]

Judge orders release of domestic spying information

A federal judge ruled that the Bush administration must release documents on its warrantless surveillance program or release a list of what it is withholding. The ruling was in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the National Security Archive Fund. [AP, 02/16/06]

Government settles in detainee lawsuit  

The Justice Department has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle one of several lawsuits brought by non-citizens, mostly Muslim, who were detained, some for months, in the New York area following the Sept. 11 attacks. The plaintiff, Egyptian Ehab Elmaghraby, was held for almost a year in a Brooklyn detention center, where he says he was beaten and sexually assaulted before being cleared of terrorism charges and deported to Egypt. He was one of 762 non-citizens, nearly all Muslim men or men from Arab countries, who were swept up by law enforcement in the New York area following Sept. 11. [NY Times, 02/28/06]

Bush administration lawyers say anti-torture bill does not apply to Guantánamo Bay  

Justice Department lawyers argued in court that the anti-torture bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain does not apply to prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The Bush administration contends that the Detainee Treatment Act, which included the McCain bill, prohibits Guantánamo detainees from challenging the government in U.S. courts; therefore, detainees cannot claim mistreatment under the McCain bill. Lawyers for the Yemeni detainee claim that he has been systematically tortured while in the detention center and that the force-feeding measures used to break his hunger strike were violent and humiliating. [Washington Post, 03/03/06]

Pentagon releases documents on Guantánamo Bay 

The Pentagon released documents containing the names and identities of many of the detainees held in the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The information was released after a successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Associated Press. Defense Department officials claimed they did not want to release the names to protect the privacy of the prisoners. The documents included testimony from military tribunal hearings. During one hearing, a detainee repeatedly referred to international law. A colonel responded, “We are not concerned about international law,” and had the detainee removed from the courtroom. [AP, 03/04/06]

Federal Judge halts Moussaoui trial 

A federal judge halted the death penalty case against Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States in connection with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, after a government lawyer violated the judge’s orders by coaching several witnesses. If Judge Leonie Brinkema throws out the case, Moussaoui would receive life in prison and would not be subject to an execution sentence. [AP, 03/13/06]

Abu Ghraib dog handler found guilty 

Sgt. Michael J. Smith was found guilty in a military court of mistreating three detainees by using his dog to frighten them. Smith and another dog handler used the dogs to frighten two teenage detainees in an attempt to make the detainees soil themselves. Smith was not found guilty of other charges including abusing other detainees and conspiring with military police to abuse inmates. Smith was sentenced to six months in prison. [Washington Post, 03/21/06]

Supreme Court rejects Padilla appeal 

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal by former “enemy combatant” and American citizen Jose Padilla. A lower court had ruled that the government was justified in holding Padilla indefinitely without a trial, but the administration shifted legal tactics and criminally indicted Padilla in November 2005. The Supreme Court justices ruled 6-3 that the criminal indictment made the appeal moot. [NY Times, 04/03/06]

Supreme Court rejects appeal from Chinese Muslims at Guantánamo 

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal by two Chinese Muslims who have been cleared of “enemy combatant” status but remain imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay. Lawyers for the men appealed directly to the Supreme Court after a district court judge ruled that federal courts had no jurisdiction to decide the men’s fate. The government says that the two men will stay in detention until they can find a country to grant them asylum, something the U.S. will not do. Lawyers have asked for the two men to be released while an asylum destination is pending. The case will now go to an appeals court and may eventually reach the high court in the future. [Reuters, 04/17/06]

General to testify at dog handler trial 

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller has agreed to testify in the case of Abu Ghraib dog handler, Sgt. Santos Cardona, making him the highest ranking official to testify in the Abu Ghraib scandal. The military judge in the case refused requests to bring Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to the stand. Miller says he recommended that dog teams be used at Abu Ghraib for detainee custody and control, but Col. Thomas M. Pappas has testified that Miller told him dogs were useful in setting the atmosphere for interrogations. Cardona is accused of using his dogs to abuse inmates. [AP, 04/18/06]

High-ranking officer to face charges for Abu Ghraib abuse 

The Army will soon charge Lieut. Col. Steven L. Jordan with dereliction of duty, lying to investigators and conduct unbecoming of an officer, according to Jordan’s lawyer. Jordan was head of the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib between September and December 2003, when many of the photographed abuses there took place. When he is charged, Colonel Jordan will become the highest-ranking official to face criminal charges in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. [NY Times, 04/25/06]

Justice Department moves to dismiss lawsuit on domestic spying 

The Department of Justice moved to dismiss a federal lawsuit in which the government is not named. The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued AT&T, claiming that the telecommunications firm violated domestic law and customers’ privacy rights when it agreed to allow the National Security Agency to spy on its customers without warrants. The government claims the case would reveal national security information and should therefore be dismissed. [AP, 04/29/06]

Moussaoui gets life in prison 

Self-proclaimed al-Qaeda member Zacarias Moussaoui was given life in prison for his role in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The jury rejected the government’s call for the death penalty. Defense lawyers argued that their client was delusional and was claiming a role he never had in order to achieve martyrdom. Moussaoui is the only person to be charged in the Sept. 11 attacks. [AP, 05/03/06]

Government lawyer says U.S. does not outsource torture

John Bellinger, a lawyer for the U.S. State Department, told the U.N. Committee Against Torture that the United States does not send terrorism suspects to countries where they would be subject to torture. Bellinger was responding to allegations made in a European Parliament investigation suggesting that the CIA had used European airspace and airports for extraordinary renditions, a practice during which suspects are handed over to countries that often have poor human rights records. The investigating committee, however, did not produce any firm evidence. Bellinger told the U.N. committee that there had been “very few” cases of extraordinary rendition. [Reuters, 05/04/06]

Judge throws out extraordinary rendition case

A district court judge in Virginia threw out a case against the CIA brought by a victim of extraordinary rendition. Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen, claims he was detained in Macedonia and then transferred to Afghanistan and was tortured with beatings and drug injections. He sued then CIA director George Tenet and others, demanding reparations and an apology. Judge T.S. Ellis threw out the lawsuit, saying it endangered national security. [BBC News, 05/18/06]

Witnesses testify that high ranking officers condoned abuse at Abu Ghraib

Witnesses in the abuse trial of Army dog handler Sgt. Santos Cardona suggested that higher-ranking officers condoned some of the harsher methods used at Abu Ghraib prison. One civilian interrogator testified that although interrogators had to submit requests to use harsher methods, silence from superior officers was largely seen as consent. Another officer testified that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was responsible for information gathering oversight, encouraged handlers to use their dogs to the “maximum extent possible.” [Reuters, 05/25/06]

Bush administration seeks to dismiss domestic spying lawsuits 

Justice Department lawyers have asked two federal judges to dismiss cases involving the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program. Both the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suits against the government, claiming the program is illegal. Bush administration lawyers say that defending the program would endanger state secrets. [AP, 05/28/06]

Abu Ghraib dog handler sentenced to hard labor

Army dog handler Sgt. Santos Cardona was found guilty on two of nine charges related to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He was found guilty of improper use of his dog and using his dog to threaten detainees. He was cleared of some of the more serious charges, including letting his dog bite a prisoner and conspiring with others to make prisoners urinate and defecate on themselves. Cardona was demoted and sentenced to 90 days hard labor. He is the 11th soldier to be convicted in the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. [Reuters, 6/2/06]