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Supreme Court Tosses Former Detainee’s Lawsuit

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18-19 May 09 | LAT and CCR

The justices rule that Javaid Iqbal, a Pakistani Muslim arrested after Sept. 11, may not sue former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III for abuses he says he suffered.

The Supreme Court served notice Monday that it would set a high bar for anyone seeking to hold top government officials liable for abuse suffered by prisoners held as part of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy spoke for a 5-4 majority in throwing out a lawsuit against former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III that claimed the two ordered the roundup of hundreds of Muslim men after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Supreme Court served notice Monday that it would set a high bar for anyone seeking to hold top government officials liable for abuse suffered by prisoners held as part of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy spoke for a 5-4 majority in throwing out a lawsuit against former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III that claimed the two ordered the roundup of hundreds of Muslim men after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. >>>

CCR statement on Supreme Court ruling against holding high-level officials accountable for post-9/11 domestic sweeps: Supreme Court creates new hurdle for victims of racial and religious discrimination.

Today the United States Supreme Court issued a decision against a post-9/11 detainee’s challenge to former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller’s role in his discriminatory confinement and abuse. The 5-4 majority ruled that Mr. Iqbal has not included enough facts in his complaint to show those defendants “adopted and implemented the detention policies at issue … for the purpose of discriminating on account of race, religion, or national origin,” rather than “for a neutral, investigative reason.”

Ashcroft v. Iqbal is a companion case to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) class action, Turkmen v. Ashcroft. Both cases involve allegations that Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men were swept up after 9/11 based solely on race and religion and without any evidence of a connection to terrorism, treated as terrorists – held in supermaximum security confinement and abused – until they were cleared of any connection to terrorism, and deported.

Ashcroft and Mueller have argued that, as high-ranking government officials, they cannot be held liable for discriminating against Mr. Iqbal because Mr. Iqbal did not provide enough detail regarding their specific illegal actions at the time the case was filed. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to decide whether Iqbal should have a chance to amend his complaint to include more facts about the defendants’ state of mind and involvement in the alleged discrimination.

“The slim majority decision is a grave disappointment, and we condemn it,” said CCR Attorney Rachel Meeropol. “This decision makes it easier for those who run our country to escape liability when they act with their subordinates to target people for the color of their skin or the tenets of their faith. That said, we are hopeful that justice will eventually be done for Mr. Iqbal and for our clients, as we currently have much evidence of Ashcroft’s and Mueller’s personal involvement in the 9/11 sweeps.”

The Turkmen plaintiffs filed an amicus brief in Iqbal that contains much of that detailed factual information, including evidence that Ashcroft and Mueller were provided detailed daily briefings and information about who was being arrested, and why. The evidence shows that Muslim, Arab and South Asian men were arrested after 9/11 based on tips from the public that reflected nothing more than a general suspicion of men who “looked Arab.” Without anything more, these men were held for months in the most restrictive confinement that exists in federal prisons.

Michael Winger, co-counsel at Covington & Burling, LLP, explained: “Plaintiffs in Iqbal and Turkmen are in a unique situation. We have had the benefit of a meticulous and far-reaching government investigation, and over a hundred depositions, giving us the kind of detail the Supreme Court has now said plaintiffs need. But few plaintiffs get access to such details about the work of high level government officials. I fear that this case will keep many victims of governmental discrimination and abuse from ever getting their day in court.”

For more information on Turkmen v. Ashcroft, click here.

The Center for Constitutional Rights represents other victims of the Bush administration’s unlawful practices, from Canadian rendition victim Maher Arar, to Iraqis tortured and abused at Abu Ghraib prison, to both current and former Guantanamo detainees.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

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