Obama administration seeks to kill Gitmo lawsuit

AP News
Posted: Dec 05, 2009 2:52 PM

A 2008 Supreme Court ruling giving Guantanamo Bay prisoners the right to challenge their indefinite detention does not apply in the case of two detainees who committed suicide, the Obama administration says in newly filed court papers.

The Justice Department made the argument in a lawsuit brought by the families of two Saudi detainees who, according to the U.S. government, hanged themselves at the island prison on the same day in June 2006 after more than four years in captivity.

A year and a half ago, the Supreme Court overturned part of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that had stripped federal courts from hearing challenges to the indefinite detention of hundreds of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

The decision "had no effect" on another provision of that act that says no court has jurisdiction to hear a challenge "relating to any aspect" of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner's detention, the department said in court papers filed Friday.

The government says the two men whose deaths were ruled suicide, Yassar Talal al-Zahrani and Salah Ali Abdullah Ahmed al-Salami, were properly detained as enemy combatants and therefore their families' lawsuit is barred from the court system.

A Republican-controlled Congress passed the Military Commissions Act that was the focus of the 2008 Supreme Court ruling.

Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami were among dozens of prisoners who went on a hunger strike for months at a time and who were force-fed by the U.S. military through tubes put down their noses and throats, according to the suit filed last January.

The lawyers for the two men allege that torture and brutal conditions at the offshore prison led the men to their deaths.

Al-Zahrani was 17 years old when he was transferred to Guantanamo and 22 when he died, according to the suit by the men's families.

"It doesn't really matter if this was an intentional death or an accidental death or suicide. The point is that the U.S. government bears responsibility," Talal al-Zahrani, father of Yassar Talal al-Zahrani, said when the suit was filed.

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