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

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Synopsis

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. The case was dismissed by the district court in Washington, D.C., and affirmed on appeal in the D.C. Circuit Court.

 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.

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 of Yasser Al-Zahrani and Salah Al-Salami filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Description

 

Talal Al-Zahrani and his son Yasser Al-Zahrani. Yasser was 21 when died at Guantanamo in 2006.

Talal Al-Zahrani and his son Yasser Al-Zahrani. Yasser was 21 when died at Guantanamo in 2006.

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.

William Goodman of Goodman & Hurwitz, P.C. and the International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) at the Washington College of Law were co-counsel in Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld.

June 2014

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

March 17, 2010

Statement by Talal Al-Zahrani responding to newly discovered evidence about his son’s death at Guantánamo

May peace and God’s blessings be upon you,

First, I would like to introduce myself. I am the father Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, a young man who was detained at Guantánamo and who died there. The U.S. government falsely declared that my son committed suicide along with two of his friends, contrary to all the evidence that has surfaced, including testimonies given by some of the prison’s guards.

I wish to address this brief message to President Obama, the U.S. judicial authorities, and the American people.

First, I say: Mr. President, the killing of my son at the hands of his guards and under the supervision of the administration of the detention center is a serious and gruesome crime. It is against all human values and ideals, and whoever covers up this gruesome crime or obstructs the criminal and judicial investigations is a co-conspirator with those who have committed the crime itself.

It is not unusual in any society to find crime and criminals, but it is a catastrophe when a democratic society that raises the banner of defending human rights stays silent in the face of such a crime. Mr. President, neither you nor your government stand to gain anything by covering up this crime, unless you believe in the achievements of former President Bush and his Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and wish to share in their legacy.

I say to the judicial authorities: Why do you refuse to look into these flagrant violations of human rights, even though you hear cases and convict people who commit crimes against animals? Do you really believe that only Americans or Westerners are worthy of being considered human beings with rights?

Finally, American people, I would like to tell you that the reason negative feelings towards America continue to exist is because your government is disregarding people’s feelings and showing contempt and disrespect for the lives of others. Too often it lets criminals—from powerful politicians and decision makers to low-level perpetrators—get away with serious crimes. This damages your reputation and the best values you stand for. I am inspired by the many among you who continue to insist that your government and courts deliver truth and justice to families whose loved ones have died in U.S. detention.

Finally, I hope that no one who reads my words will think that I am seeking sympathy for myself or for my son, for no matter what is done, nothing can bring him back to me. However, it is my firm hope that the criminals are held accountable and brought to justice.

I want to thank all those who remain concerned with fighting human rights violations.

Talal Al-Zahrani
Saudi Arabia 

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

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.

March 16, 2010, CCR files 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.

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.