DC Circuit Dismisses Enemy Combatants' Damages Claim

By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 24, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the families of enemy combatants who killed themselves in their Guantanamo prison cells cannot sue the U.S. government for damages.

Talal Al-Zahrani and Ali Abdullah Ahmed Al-Salami sued the United States as representatives of their deceased sons' estates, seeking money damages relating to the alleged mistreatment and eventual death of those sons while they were detained at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. A district court granted United States' motion for dismissal of the claims based on the merits.

On appeal, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal on Tuesday, finding that neither the district court nor the appellate court had subject matter jurisdiction to hear the matter because the Military Commissions Act (MCA) bars jurisdiction.

Federal courts can only hear the cases over which Congress grants jurisdiction. Here, the appeals court found that the MCA specifically denies jurisdiction to hear actions against the United States involving any aspect of the detention or treatment of enemy combatants. Since Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami’s lawsuit was clearly related to the “detention, treatment, and conditions” of an enemy combatant’s confinement, the court noted that the MCA requires the dismissal of the action.

Pardiss Kebriaei, who argued the case for the families before the appeals court, told The Associated Press, “The court’s decision today means that men like them can be tortured and even killed at the hands of U.S. officials, and no court can have anything to say about it.”

If the families appeal the decision, do you think the Supreme Court would reverse the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on enemy combatant damages claims like it did Boumediene on habeas petitions?

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