Supreme Court conservative majority blocks Sept. 11 detainee lawsuit

May 18, 2009

(ChattahBox) -— A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that two top former Bush administration officials are off the hook, after being sued on behalf of Arab Muslims who say they were arrested, tortured and locked in a maximum security prison after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Sept. 11 detainee Javaid Iqbal who brought the suit, argued that FBI Director Robert Mueller and former Attorney General John Ashcroft were responsible for his restrictive confinement because of his religious beliefs.
Today’s 5-4 decision followed the court’s ideological split between conservatives and liberals, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy writing the opinion,  overturned a lower court decision that let the lawsuit against the high-ranking officials proceed.  Kennedy and the conservative court majority said it was reasonable for Ashcroft and Mueller to detain those “who were illegally present in the United States and who had potential connections to those who committed terrorist acts.” This is not proof of “unconstitutional discrimination,” he said.

Javaid Iqbal is a Pakistani citizen who was living legally in the country and was a cable television installer on Long Island.  He was among more than 1,000 people picked up and questioned by the FBI looking for suspects in the New York area with links to the Sept. 11 attacks, and held in a special housing unit of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.  Iqbal, who was charged with fraud related to his identification papers, says he was designated a person of “high interest” solely because of his race and religion.

Mr. Iqbal claims he was kept in solitary confinement at the center, without medical care and subjected to beatings, verbal abuse and extreme temperatures. He said that he 40 pounds during six months in the special unit. He eventually pleaded guilty to identity fraud and was deported to Pakistan.

Mr. Iqbal sued more than 30 officials for mistreatment based on his religion and national background. Monday’s decision, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, No. 07-1015, concerned only Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Mueller.  But the government argued that there was nothing linking Mueller and Ashcroft to the abuses that happened to Iqbal at a Brooklyn, N.Y., prison’s Administrative Maximum Special Housing Unit, and the court agreed.

Though today’s decision shields the highest officials at the Justice Department, it does not end the suits against those officials who were directly involved in holding and allegedly abusing the Muslim men.


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