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Ali v. Rumsfeld

Right to Redress for Victims of Torture in U.S. Overseas Military Facilities

Ali v. Rumsfeld

Right to Redress for Victims of Torture in U.S. Overseas Military Facilities


On September 20, 2010, CJA signed on to an amicus brief filed with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the plaintiffs who alleged they were tortured and abused while detained by the U.S. in military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Each plaintiff was subsequently released without ever being charged.  In Ali v. Rumsfeld, 479 F.Supp.2d 85 (D.D.C. 2007), the district court dismissed these claims, effectively precluding the plaintiffs from seeking redress for their injuries. 

The brief, which was authored by CJA Board member William Aceves and UVA law professor Deena Hurwitz, addressed two issues: (1) that victims of torture have a right to seek redress for their injuries under customary international law as well as under U.S. law; and (2) that U.S. law should be interpreted consistent with international law under a long-standing doctrine of statutory construction.

Outcome

On June 21, 2011 the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision to dismiss the claims.  The court found that, because it was an unsettled question whether non-resident aliens detained abroad have Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights, the government actors had qualified immunity against the constitutional claims. Turning to the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) claim, the court relied on precedent to find that the officials' actions were “incidental” to their employment.  As such, the Westfall Act required that the U.S. substitute in as defendant, and the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) provided the governing standard.  Because plaintiffs had not exhausted their remedies under the FTCA, the court affirmed the dismissal of the statutory claim.

Learn more about the case at the ACLU's website.

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