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DC Circuit Dismisses Guantanamo Torture Case for a Second Time

By Kevin Fayle on April 27, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019
After the US Supreme Court vacated and remanded a previous dismissal of four Britons' torture suit against US federal officials, the DC Circuit has again thrown out the case after finding that other recent Supreme Court decisions did not alter the previous outcome.

The DC Circuit held that the federal officials named as defendants in the suit had qualified immunity from the lawsuit since the constitutionality of the violations alleged by plaintiffs was not clearly established at the time of the defendants' purported actions.
The Supreme Court had vacated the DC Circuit's previous opinion and remanded for reconsideration in light of its decision in Boumediene v. Bush that detainees could pursue petitions for habeas corpus in federal court. 

The plaintiffs argued that Boumediene created a new test for whether aliens on foreign soil could invoke constitutional rights in federal court, and alleged that their claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) could survive since they mirrored a previous version of the Constitution's free exercise clause.

The DC Circuit disagreed, noting that the Supreme Court had explicitly restricted its decision in Boumediene to the issue of suspension of habeas corpus rights. 

The DC Circuit then examined the plaintiffs' constitutional claims and held that they did not need to decide whether or not the defendants' alleged actions violated the constitution for qualified immunity purposes since the Supreme Court's decision in Pearson v. Callahan allowed them to determine whether or not any constitutional right was clearly established at the time before determining whether or not a constitutional violation had actually occurred. 

The DC Circuit then held that "[n]o reasonable government official would have been on notice that plaintiffs had any Fifth Amendment or Eighth Amendment rights."  As a result of this holding, the DC Circuit granted the defendants qualified immunity and dismissed the suit.

There is no word yet on whether or not plaintiffs will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court again.

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