Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld & Al-Zahrani v. United States Historic Case

At a Glance

Current Status 

In February 2012, the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. affirmed the dismissal of Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld.In August 2012, the families filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Date Filed: 

June 10, 2008

Co-Counsel 

William Goodman of Goodman & Hurwitz, P.C.
The International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) at the Washington College of Law

Client 

The families of Yasser Al-Zahrani and Salah Al-Salami

Case Description 

Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld is a civil action filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of the families and estates of two men who died at Guantánamo Bay in June 2006. The case was brought against the United States and 24 federal officials, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for their role in the arbitrary detention, torture and ultimate deaths of Yasser Al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia and Salah Al-Salami of Yemen. Al-Zahrani v. United States is a case pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which alleges U.S. government responsibility for alleged international law violations of the rights of Yasser Al-Zahrani and Salah Al-Salami.

Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld was filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia on June 10, 2008. In February 2010, the district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss. In March 2010, CCR filed a motion for reconsideration of the dismissal on the basis of newly-discovered evidence from four soldiers stationed at the base at the time of the deaths, who describe a high-level cover-up and say they were ordered not to speak out. Their accounts strongly undercut the military’s claim that the deceased committed suicide in their cells, and suggest that they may have been killed at a CIA-run black site at Guantanamo. The district court denied the motion in September 2010, holding that even if the men were victims of homicide by the defendants, the claims involved the treatment of Guantanamo detainees, and therefore, national security, which barred a remedy. The court further held that the defendants were entitled to immunity because they were acting “within the scope of their employment,” again, even if they were involved in homicide.

The D.C. Circuit Court affirmed in February 2012, on grounds that the court had no jurisdiction to review the claims of alleged murder because they concerned Guantanamo detainees’ treatment and were therefore barred by the 2006 Military Commissions Act.

In August 2012, CCR submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on behalf of the families of Yasser Al-Zahrani and Salah Al-Salami, which is still pending.

The Guantanamo "Suicides" Revisited, a missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up, by Scott Horton, Harper's Magazine

And the original piece from March, 2010: The Guantánamo “Suicides,” A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle, by Scott Horton, Harper's Magazine

Case Timeline

August 21, 2012
CCR files a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the families of Yasser Al-Zahran.
August 21, 2012
CCR files a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of the families of Yasser Al-Zahran.
February 21, 2012
The D.C. Circuit Court affirms dismissal of the case.
February 21, 2012
The D.C. Circuit Court affirms dismissal of the case.
June 13, 2011
CCR files an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
February 16, 2010
The district court grants the defendants’ motion to dismiss.
February 16, 2010
The district court grants the defendants’ motion to dismiss.
June 10, 2008
Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld is filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia.
June 10, 2008
Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld is filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia.