Geneva Conventions

  • February 17, 2010

    The survivors of two Guantanamo detainees who died in U.S. military custody had their hopes of assigning civil liability dashed yesterday. The families of Yasser Al-Zahrani and Salah Ali Abdullah Ahmed Al-Salami saw their suit dismissed by a district court judge who relied on the Military Commissions Act of 2006 in her order.

    The deaths, which were deemed "suicides" by the military, drew closer scrutiny after a Seton Hall study was released suggesting several reasons for suspicion. After attorney and ACS participant Scott Horton discussed the deaths on MSNBC, four soldiers who had been stationed at Guantanamo came forward and shed further light on what happened that night.

    According to the Associated Press, the families of the deceased sought damages "under the Alien Tort Claims Act, alleging arbitrary detention, torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, violations of the Geneva Conventions, and cruel and unusual punishment." The judge dismissed these claims, deferring to the military's position that the detainees were enemy combatants rather than prisoners of war.

    This determination "runs contrary to the evidence," Horton wrote today. 

  • May 1, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Martin Flaherty, Leitner Family Professor of International Human Rights Law at Fordham School of Law

    Debate continues over whether the United States government - prosecutors, Congress or a commission - should undertake some type of investigation into the now extensive allegations that Bush Administration officials facilitated torture and mistreatment of detainees in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, "black sites" and elsewhere.

    But the debate appears to have stalled. Advocates of an investigation emphasize, simply and surely, the law. The Federal Anti-Torture Statute, to say nothing of the Eighth Amendment, prohibits many if not most of the techniques employed during the last eight years. If officials have broken the law, they should be tried and punished, whether Lynndie England or Donald Rumsfeld (below).

    Opponents offer a more muddled rejoinder based less on law than on politics. Prosecuting those responsible for torture may respect the law, but the political cost is simply too high. Domestically, pursuing such individuals may be seen as partisan, and so undermine support for initiatives that may require votes from both sides of the aisle. It might also lead to retribution, fair or not, down the road should the GOP rise from the dead. In foreign affairs, further revelations could only further damage our image abroad no matter how deft President Obama has been at rehabilitating the world's opinion of the U.S.

    Those who would investigate torture have it only half-right, since in a sense they have relied on only half the law. Beyond the domestic level, international law not only makes the argument for inquiry stronger, it makes it compelling. Fulfilling our binding obligations under international law, moreover, helps to belie false charges of partisanship precisely because they make meaningful investigation obligatory.