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Celikgogus v. Rumsfeld & Allaithi v. Rumsfeld

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Synopsis

Celikgogus v. Rumsfeld, et al. and Allaithi v. Rumsfeld, et al. are civil cases seeking compensatory damages and declaratory relief for six former Guantánamo detainees.

Status

On February 19, 2010, the government filed motions to dismiss in both Celikgogus and Allaithi in light of the appellate decision in Rasul v. Rumsfeld, which was dismissed largely on "qualified immunity" grounds - that is, on the notion that courts had not clearly established that torture and religious abuse of Guantánamo detainees was prohibited at the time those abuses were being carried out.

On February 1, 2013, two years and nine months after the motions to dismiss had been fully briefed, Judge Lamberth dismissed the plaintiffs' claims. Plaintiffs have filed an appeal to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and expect to brief the case over the course of 2013, arguing inter alia that the three plaintiffs who were determined to be "Not Enemy Combatants" by their CRSTs have cases that may be distinguished from those of the plaintiffs whose claims were dismissed by the D.C. Circuit in Rasul v Rumsfeld.

The appeal to the D.C. Circuit was argued on February 21, 2014 before Judges Brown, Tatel, and Randolph. On June 10, 2014, the panel affirmed the dismissal below, finding that the continued abuse and detention of even the plaintiffs held after their CSRT victories was foreseeable to the "master" (the United States) and therefore within the scope of the defendants' employment.

Plaintiffs filed a petition for rehearing en banc (that is, before all eleven judges of the D.C. Circuit) on August 25, 2014.

Description

Celikgogus and Allaithi were brought against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, and dozens of others, including civilian and military personnel at Guantánamo. Both cases charge that the Pentagon chain of command authorized and condoned torture and other mistreatment in violation of the Alien Tort Statute, the Vienna Convention, the U.S. Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Federal Civil Rights Act. None of the former detainees has ever been a member of any terrorist group, and all were released from Guantánamo without being charged with any crime. The suits were filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The plaintiffs in Celikgogus include Yuksel Celikgogus and Ibrahim Sen, two Turkish citizens who were released from Guantánamo in 2004; Turkish citizen Nuri Mert; Uzbekistan citizen Zakirjan Hasam; and Algerian citizen Abu Muhammad.

Abu Muhammad is a medical doctor and Algerian refugee who was taken from his pregnant wife and five children in Pakistan in 2002, sent to Guantánamo for four years and sent to Albania -- against his will -- as a refugee on November 16, 2006. Zakirjan Hasam, an Uzbek refugee who fled religious persecution in Uzbekistan, was transferred to the U.S. in 2002 by Afghanis, who he believes received a bounty from the U.S. government, and was also sent on November 16, 2006 against his will as a refugee to Albania.

Hasam was subject to all of the worst abuses inflicted on Guantánamo detainees after he was found by a military (CSRT) panel to not be an “enemy combatant”: he was placed in solitary confinement (against a military psychologist’s advice), subjected to sleep deprivation, prevented from praying, forcibly shaved, and medicated against his will. When he was finally sent to Albania as a refugee, 23 months after the military panel’s ruling, he was sent shackled and bound to his seat. He continues to live in poverty there.

The other plaintiffs are three Turkish men released before the military even provided CSRT panels to detainees: Yuksel Celikgogus, a father of three, and Ibrahim Sen, were both released to Turkey on November 22, 2003, after two years in U.S. custody. The third, Nuri Mert, a father of four, was released to Turkey on April 1, 2004, after being detained for more than two years by the U.S.

The plaintiff in Allaithi is Sami Abdulaziz Allaithi, an Egyptian who was working as a university English professor in Kabul, Afghanistan when the U.S. bombing campaign began. He was unlawfully detained first in Kandahar and then in Guantánamo. In 2004, Allaithi was determined to be not an enemy combatant through the CSRT process, yet he was held for ten additional months before he was released on October 1, 2005. Allaithi could walk when he was brought to Guantánamo, but left in a wheelchair. He was routinely beaten, his Koran desecrated, his beard shaved, and his religion mocked -- all after he was found to not be an “enemy combatant” by his military CSRT panel. Now living with family in Egypt, he remains immobilized and in great pain.

In dismissing their claims, the D.C. Circuit stated that the torture and religious humiliation these men endured—even after being cleared for release by the military—were incidental to the “need to maintain an orderly detention environment,” “appear[ed] to be standard for all” U.S. military detainees in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and “was certainly foreseeable [by the government] because maintaining peace, security, and safety at a place like Guantanamo Bay is a stern and difficult business.”

CCR's cocounsel on the case are Russell P. Cohen, Jason Cabot, Bob Rosenfeld, and Howard Ullmann of Orrick LLP’s San Francisco office.

Timeline

On November 21, 2006, the original Celikgogus complaint was filed on behalf of Yuksel Celikgogus and Ibrahim Sen, two Turkish citizens who were both released from Guantánamo on November 22, 2003, and transferred to Albania.

On March 21, 2007, the complaint was amended to include three new plaintiffs – Nuri Mert, Zakirjan Hasam, and Abu Muhammad – and also new defendants.

On April 1, 2008, plaintiffs in Celikgogus filed a second amended complaint.

On September 30, 2009, the related case Allaithi was filed on behalf of Sami Abdulaziz Allaithi, an Egyptian university professor who was released from Guantánamo on October 1, 2005.

On February 19, 2010, the government filed motions to dismiss in both Celikgogus and Allaithi in light of the appellate decision in Rasul, which was dismissed largely on “qualified immunity” grounds - that is, on the notion that courts had not clearly established that torture and religious abuse of Guantánamo detainees was prohibited at the time those abuses were being carried out.

On April 19, 2010, plaintiffs in both cases filed memorandums in opposition to the government’s motion to dismiss.

On May 21, 2010, the government filed their reply in support of defendants’ motion to dismiss in both cases.

On November 18, 2011, Judge Kennedy, to whom these cases had been initially assigned, resigned. The cases were eventually transferred to Chief Judge Lamberth.

On February 1, 2013, Judge Lamberth issued an opinion dismissing the plaintiffs' claims.

Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal on April 1, 2013. The two cases were consolidated for appeal by order of the court on May 9, 2013. The case was argued on February 21, 2014 and the opinion affirming the dismissal issued on June 10, 2014.

On August 25, 2014, plaintiffs filed a petition for rehearing en banc (that is, before all eleven judges of the D.C. Circuit).