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O.K. v. Bush

July 12, 2005

O.K., ET AL., PETITIONERS,
v.
GEORGE W. BUSH, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The petitioner in this habeas action is an eighteen-year old detainee at the United States Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who has been held in United States custody since the age of fifteen. This action comes before the Court on his dual motions for a preliminary injunction barring the respondents from subjecting him to torture or interrogation and a preliminary injunction ordering the government to provide his counsel and the Court with thirty days' notice prior to transferring him out of Guantánamo to a foreign country. The first motion reflects the opening of a new front in the ongoing litigation over the legal rights of the detainees at Guantánamo, while the second motion seeks to introduce new arguments in favor of a form of relief that this Court already denied with regard to a different Guantánamo detainee several weeks ago.

For the reasons set out below, the Court denies both of the motions.

BACKGROUND

Petitioner O.K. ("petitioner") is a citizen of Canada who was taken into United States custody in Afghanistan following a gun fight in which at least one American soldier was killed. He was fifteen years old at the time of his capture in July 2002.*fn1 He was detained for a period at a military base in Bagram, Afghanistan, following his capture, and was then transferred in October 2002 to the United States Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he has been held to this day. This action began on July 2, 2004, when petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus -- through his grandmother as next friend -- challenging the fact of his detention and the conditions of his confinement in United States custody.*fn2 The petition states claims under the United States Constitution, several federal statutes and regulations, and international law.

Shortly after commencing this action, petitioners filed a motion seeking an emergency order requiring the respondents to release his medical records and permit an outside doctor to perform an independent medical evaluation of him at Guantánamo. The motion was premised on the theory that an assessment of petitioner's mental health was necessary to determine his competency to participate in the litigation of his habeas claims. The Court denied that motion in a memorandum opinion and order dated October 26, 2004, explaining that an individual does not enjoy a right to a determination of his mental competence to bring a habeas action, and even if there existed such a right, petitioners had failed to submit competent evidence calling into question petitioner's competence to assist in the litigation of the habeas claims in this case. See O.K. v. Bush, 344 F. Supp. 2d 44, 54-60 (D.D.C. 2004).

Meanwhile, on August 17, 2004, the Calendar and Case Management Committee of the Court issued an order instructing the judges presiding over Guantánamo petitions to transfer those petitions to Senior Judge Joyce Hens Green for the limited purpose of coordination and management. On September 15, 2004, the Executive Session of the Court issued a Resolution also authorizing Judge Green to address substantive issues common to the Guantánamo cases upon the consent of the transferring judge. The respondents filed motions to dismiss in this case and the other twelve Guantánamo cases pending at that time.*fn3 On November 10, 2005, this judge transferred the motion to dismiss in this case to Judge Green for decision. The judges presiding over ten of the other twelve Guantánamo cases also transferred the motions to dismiss in their cases to Judge Green. Judge Richard Leon elected to retain the motions to dismiss in his two cases.

On January 31, 2005, Judge Green issued a memorandum opinion and order in this case and the other transferred cases denying in part and granting in part the respondents' motions to dismiss. The opinion concludes in principal part that the petitioners at Guantánamo are vested with the right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and that the composition and the procedures of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals tasked with assessing whether the petitioners were properly held at Guantánamo as enemy combatants infringed that right. See In re Guantánamo Detainee Cases, 355 F. Supp. 2d 443, 454-64, 468-78 (D.D.C. 2005). Judge Green also held that those petitioners who were determined by the Combatant Status Review Tribunals to be Taliban fighters potentially could maintain certain claims under the Geneva Convention as well. See id. at 478-80. In most other respects, Judge Green dismissed the petitioners' claims. See id. at 480-81. Judge Green's decision departed in significant respects from the decision of Judge Leon two weeks earlier granting the respondents' motions to dismiss in full in the two cases pending before him. See Khalid v. Bush, 355 F. Supp. 2d 311 (D.D.C. 2005).

In an order accompanying the January 31, 2005 memorandum opinion, Judge Green asked the parties to brief the question of how the cases should proceed in light of her decision. On February 3, 2005, the respondents filed a motion seeking certification of the decision for an interlocutory appeal, and requesting a stay of the proceedings in the transferred cases pending the appeal. The petitioners filed papers the same day urging Judge Green to allow the cases to continue forward without a stay of any kind. They explained that further proceedings were necessary not only to develop the record on issues relating to the legality of the petitioners' detention, but also to allow the Court to consider the petitioners' "forthcoming motion" on the conditions of their confinement at Guantánamo. Pet'rs' Joint Submission at 2-4, Feb. 3, 2005. Judge Green issued an order later the same day certifying her decision for interlocutory appeal and staying the proceedings in the transferred cases "for all purposes pending resolution of all appeals in this matter." Order of Feb. 3, 2005 at 1.

The petitioners then filed additional papers asking Judge Green to modify the stay "to allow Petitioners to pursue factual development regarding claims of torture and severe mistreatment." On February 8, 2005, Judge Green denied this motion, citing "the substantial resources that would be expended and the significant burdens that would be incurred should this litigation go forward" when reversal of her January 31, 2005 decision on appeal would render the further proceedings moot. Order of Feb. 8, 2005, at 1. During the next several weeks, the respondents and petitioners would take appeals from Judge Green's decision denying in part and granting in part the motions to dismiss in the transferred cases, and the petitioners would take appeals from Judge Leon's decision granting motions to dismiss in his cases. Those appeals are now pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Meanwhile, at the same time that Judges Green and Leon were adjudicating the motions to dismiss in their thirteen cases, dozens of new habeas petitions were being filed in this federal court on behalf of Guantánamo detainees. Starting in March 2005, a number of the petitioners in these new cases, along with several of the petitioners in the first group of thirteen cases, began filing emergency motions seeking a new form of relief: a preliminary injunction requiring the respondents to provide thirty days' notice to petitioners' counsel and the Court prior to transferring the petitioners out of Guantánamo to foreign countries. Most of the judges of this Court have granted the request, but others have not. Compare Kurnaz v. Bush, No. 04-1135, 2005 WL 839542, at *3 (D.D.C. Apr. 12, 2005) (requiring respondents to provide thirty days' notice prior to any transfer where "respondents do not have an understanding with the receiving country that a transfer . . . is for purposes of release only"),and Al-Marri v. Bush, No. 04-2035, 2005 WL 774843, at *6 (D.D.C. Apr. 4, 2005) (ordering respondents to provide"30 days' notice of any transfer from GTMO"), with Almurbati v. Bush, No. 04-1227, 366 F. Supp. 2d 72, 82 (D.D.C. 2005) (denying motion for thirty days' notice but requiring respondents to submit a declaration advising the Court of any transfers and "certifying that any such transfers . . . were not made for the purpose of merely continuing the petitioners' detention on behalf of the United States or for the purpose of extinguishing this Court's jurisdiction over the petitioners' actions for habeas relief").

On April 21, 2005, in a habeas petition brought on behalf of several Saudi Arabian citizens detained at Guantánamo and filed after Judges Green and Leon issued their decisions, this judge denied the motion for thirty days' notice prior to transfer. See Al-Anazi v. Bush, 370 F. Supp. 2d 188, 190 (D.D.C. 2005). This Court based its decision in part on the absence of any competent evidence that the respondents were transferring detainees out of Guantánamo for continuing United States custody on foreign soil, either to procure their torture outside of the jurisdiction of this Court through a foreign intermediary or for any other improper motive. See id. at 195-96. The Court also relied on sworn and unrebutted declarations from high-level government officials confirming that the United States was not transferring detainees to foreign soil for ongoing United States custody, and the pledge of the respondents at a hearing that respondents would notify the Court were this practice to change. (A more detailed discussion of this Court's earlier decision in Al-Anazi can be found in the Analysis section below.)

Petitioners in this action have filed two separate motions for preliminary injunctions that are now pending before this Court. The first motion, filed on March 21, 2005, seeks an order preventing the "interrogation, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of petitioner." The motion explains that when counsel for petitioner met with him for the first time in November 2004, petitioner reported several instances of alleged mistreatment at the hands of interrogators and military personnel at both the military base in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo. See Decl. of Muneer I. Ahmad ("Ahmad Decl."), March 21, 2005, Ex. 1. Following the meeting, petitioner wrote a letter to counsel -- dated January 13, 2005 and received by counsel on February 7, 2005 -- that described additional allegations of misconduct, and prompted a second visit from counsel on April 25, 2005 at which petitioner voiced further concerns about his treatment.

The allegations of mistreatment can be divided into three separate time periods.*fn4 The first period consists of incidents that are alleged to have occurred while petitioner was still being held in Bagram, Afghanistan, in the summer of 2002. Petitioner claims that while he was recovering from bullet wounds he sustained during his capture, interrogators threw cold water at him, forced him to carry heavy buckets of water, and made him stand with his hands tied above a door frame for hours at a time. Petitioner also alleges that he was interrogated at his bedside in the period immediately following his capture, and was refused pain medication on occasion. Finally, petitioner describes incidents in United States custody in Afghanistan where he was interrogated with a bag over his head in a room with barking dogs, was forced to urinate on himself during interrogations, and was ordered to pick up trash and place it in a trash bag, only to have an interrogator empty the trash bag and force him to collect the trash once again. See Ahmad Decl., Ex. 1, ¶¶ 16-17.

The second set of allegations comprise the first year of petitioner's detention at Guantánamo (from October 2002 to October 2003). Petitioner claims that when he first arrived at Guantánamo he heard a military official say "Welcome to Israel." Several months later, in March 2003, petitioner contends that he was removed from his cell in the middle of the night and brought to an interrogation room, where he was "short shackled" such that his wrists and ankles were handcuffed together and the handcuffs were bolted to the floor. He alleges that military police then forced him into stress positions for periods of hours. One of the positions required him to lie on his stomach with his hands and feet cuffed together behind his back. He was not allowed to use the bathroom while in the stress positions, and eventually urinated on the floor and himself. Petitioner alleges that military police then poured pine oil on the floor and on petitioner, and with petitioner still short shackled, used petitioner as a "human mop," dragging petitioner back and forth through the mixture of urine and pine oil on the floor. See Ahmad Decl., Ex. 1, ¶¶ 15, 18.

During this same period, petitioner claims that an interrogator displeased with his answers spat in his face, pulled his hair, and threatened to send him to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, or Syria if he did not cooperate. See id. ΒΆ 12. According to petitioner, the interrogator also told him that if he were sent to Egypt, the Egyptian authorities would send in "Askri raqm tisa" -- which is Arabic for "Soldier Number 9" -- and that this was a man who would be sent to rape him. The interrogator is then alleged to have shackled petitioner's hands and ankles and forced petitioner to sit down on the floor and then stand up many times in succession. Petitioner reports that he found this difficult because of the way he was shackled, and when he finally refused to stand again, the interrogator called two military police officers into ...


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