Washington: The US Supreme Court breathed new life Monday into a lawsuit filed by former detainees at Guantanamo Bay over alleged torture and abuse of their religious rights.
The justices threw out an appeals court ruling that dismissed claims by four British men that, during their time at the US naval base in Cuba, they were beaten, shackled in painful stress positions, threatened by dogs and subjected to extreme medical care.
They also allege they were harassed while practising their religion, including forced shaving of their beards, banning or interrupting their prayers, denying them copies of the Quran and prayer mats and throwing a copy of the Quran in a toilet bucket.
They contend in their lawsuit that the treatment violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which provides that the “government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion”.
A three-judge panel of the US Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled against them. “Because the plaintiffs are aliens and were located outside sovereign United States territory at the time their alleged RFRA claim arose, they do not fall with the definition of ‘person’,” the court said.
Since that opinion was issued in January, however, the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of detainees at Guantanamo.
The justices instructed the appeals court to reconsider the lawsuit in light of their holding in June that the detainees have some rights under the US Constitution.
The defendants in the case include retired General Richard Myers, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. The four who sued are Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal Al-Harith, all British citizens and residents. They were sent back to Britain in 2004.
Rasul, Iqbal and Ahmed allege they travelled to Afghanistan from Pakistan to provide humanitarian relief the month after the 11 September attacks. Al-Harith says he travelled to Pakistan the same month to attend a religious retreat.