Solicitor General Gregory Garre had urged the high court to reject the appeal. In a brief to the court, he told the justices that the appeals court's earlier decision did not conflict with any high court decisions, including in the Boumediene opinion.
"The court of appeals reasonably concluded that military detainees could not impose personal monetary liability on the nation's military commanders for overseas conditions of confinement during a time of war," Mr. Garre wrote.
He added that since the detainees had no clearly established rights at the time, US officials could not now be sued for allegedly violating those rights.
Lawyers for the four former detainees disagree. "This petition raises issues at the core of ordered liberty," wrote Washington lawyer Eric Lewis in his brief to the court. "The right to worship free from abuse and the right to be free from physical torture are enshrined in the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and the Convention Against Torture, military law, and US statutes."
Mr. Lewis said the federal appeals court had thrown out the detainees' lawsuit based on a holding that Guantánamo detainees enjoyed no constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court overturned that ruling last June in the Boumediene decision. Specifically, the court ruled that detainees had a right to challenge the legality of their open-ended confinement by the military.
"While the right to challenge confinement ... is of critical importance," Lewis wrote, "this case presents the opportunity to recognize and enforce rights that are at least as basic and essential to human autonomy – the right to worship and the right not to be tortured."