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Turkmen v. Ashcroft

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Turkmen v. Ashcroft is a class action civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of a class of Muslim, South Asian, and Arab non-citizens who were swept up by the INS and FBI in a racial profiling dragnet following 9/11.


The case is currently on cross-appeal in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  The appeal was taken from a January 15, 2013 District Court order granting Ashcroft, Mueller, and Zigler’s motions to dismiss the Fourth Amended Complaint, but denying motions to dismiss by former Wardens and supervisors at the Metropolitan Detention Center.

The Court heard argument on the cross-appeal on May 1, 2014, and will likely issue a decision sometime this year.



Turkmen v. Ashcroft is a lawsuit brought against former Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, former INS Commissioner James Ziglar, and employees of the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York.

The suit charges that on the pretext of minor immigration violations, the Immigration and Naturalization Service unlawfully held the plaintiffs – all men from Arab or South Asian countries – in detention for the months that the FBI took to clear them of links to terrorism, long after the time their immigration cases were completed. The complaint alleges that Defendants violated the detainees' rights under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments and under international human rights law. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

The eight named plaintiffs include Muslims from Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria and Turkey, as well as a Hindu man born in India and a Buddhist from Nepal. Despite the fact that the government has never charged any of the plaintiffs with connections to terrorism, the INS kept them in detention for up to nine months. Instead of being presumed innocent until proven guilty, they and hundreds of other post-9/11 detainees were presumed guilty of terrorism until proven innocent to the satisfaction of law enforcement authorities.

The suit further charges that some of these detainees were improperly assigned to the Administrative Maximum Special Housing Unit (ADMAX SHU); kept in solitary confinement with the lights on all day; placed under a communications blackout so that they could not seek the assistance of their attorneys, families, and friends; subjected to physical and verbal abuse; forced to endure inhumane conditions of confinement; and obstructed in their efforts to practice their religion.

The plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages.


In April 2002, Turkmen v. Ashcroft was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

In August of 2002 the high-level defendants, Ashcroft, Mueller and Zigler, moved to dismiss the case on qualified immunity grounds. Plaintiffs filed briefs in opposition to motion.

In December of 2002 Bill Goodman, then-legal director of CCR, argued the motion before the Honorable Judge Gleeson.

In April 2003, the first DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report was released, describing the government's secret round up of more than 700 Muslim and Arab non-citizens after 9/11 on the pretext of immigration violations. It described the government’s application of a blanket policy of denying them release on bond, even when the government lacked evidence that they posed a danger or a flight risk, and of the blanket policy of continuing to hold them for criminal investigatory purposes even after they could have been deported.

On June 18, 2003, CCR filed the second amended complaint. This complaint added several new claims based on information made available through the OIG report. Defendants filed a supplemental motion to dismiss the new claims, and a second round of briefing occurred.

In December 2003, a second OIG report was released, documenting in graphic detail the physical and verbal abuse that INS detainees held at the MDC suffered at the hands of MDC officials and the inhuman conditions in which they were confined.

On September 13, 2004, CCR filed the third amended complaint, which named as defendants 28 MDC employees, included wardens, lieutenants, correctional officers, and counselors, added a eighth plaintiff, and several Federal Tort Claims Act claims against the United States. Defendants once again moved to dismiss the new claims, and the parties engaged in a third round of briefing.

In October of 2004, Judge Gleeson allowed Plaintiffs to begin discovery with respect to Plaintiffs conditions of confinement and excessive force claims. Document discovery began shortly thereafter.

In early 2006, four of the plaintiffs in the Turkmen case were paroled into the United States to have their depositions taken. Non-citizens barred from re-entering the United States have never before been allowed to enter our country for the purpose of pursing a civil case. The United States would only allow their return on the condition that the plaintiffs remained in the custody of the United States Marshall Service for the entirety of their stay. They were not permitted to leave their hotel, nor contact their family or friends at home or in the United States. The plaintiffs accepted these onerous conditions in order to better present their testimony.

In spring of 2006, in response to revelations about the Bush administration's warrantless domestic spying program, CCR demanded to know whether communications between CCR and the Turkmen plaintiffs were being intercepted and revealed to government attorneys or defendants. The United States government vigorously fought to avoid stating whether or not it had access to surveillance of CCR attorneys in the case.

On May 30, 2006, Magistrate Judge Gold ordered all defendants, witnesses, and government attorneys involved in the case to admit or deny whether they are "aware of any monitoring or surveillance of communications" between CCR attorneys and their clients. The United States objected to Magistrate Judge Gold’s order before the District Court.

On June 14, 2006, Judge John Gleeson in the Eastern District of New York decided defendants' motion to dismiss, originally filed in August of 2002. Judge Gleeson dismissed the claims challenging plantiffs’ prolonged detention but allowed the conditions of confinement and racial & religious discrimination claims to proceed. CCR sought and received permission from the court to appeal the dismissal immediately.

On October 3, 2006 District Court Judge John Gleeson upheld Judge Gold’s order regarding surveillance, and gave the United States a limited period of time to provide the court with an in camera assurance that no intercepted communications were being used in the case.

In April of 2007, the Department of Justice announced criminal indictments against eleven current and former MDC employees, including three of the Turkmen defendants. The defendants are charged with physical attacks against MDC prisoners (not the 9-11 detainees) occurring between 2002 and 2006. Several defendants pled guilty and other went to trial.  Ten of the eleven defendants were ultimately convicted.

In the spring of 2007, the parties filed a cross appeal of Judge Gleeson’s decision on the motion to dismiss before the second circuit.

On February 14, 2008, CCR attorney Rachel Meeropol argued the appeal before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. We are currently awaiting the decision.

On June 18, 2008 the Supreme Court granted cert in Iqbal v. Ashcroft, a companion case to Turkmen brought on behalf of one non-citizen rounded up after 9/11, held on criminal charges, and abused in the same facility as many of the Turkmen plaintiffs. The Turkmen plaintiffs filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court urging it to deny attempts by the high level officials to avoid accountability. That brief provided the Supreme Court with never before released documents gleaned through discovery, showing the involvement by former-Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller in the 9/11 sweeps.

On May 18, 2009, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that Iqbal had not included enough facts in his complaint to show that former Attorney General Aschroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller had a role in his discriminatory confinement and abuse.

In the summer of 2009 the parties briefed the impact of the Iqbal decision on their pending cross-appeal in the Second Circuit.

On November 3, 2009 CCR announced that the six MDC plaintiffs had settled their claims against the United States for 1.26 million dollars. At the same time, CCR sought permission from the district court to amend the complaint to add five new plaintiffs.

On December 18, 2009 the Second Circuit affirmed Judge Gleeson’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims about prolonged detention.  The Court vacated the balance of the District Court’s decision, regarding abusive conditions of confinement, and remanded the case to the District Court to consider Plaintiffs’ motion to amend the complaint and to apply the new pleading standard created in Iqbal v. Ashcroft.

September 13, 2010, CCR filed the Fourth Amended Complaint.  The complaint adds as potential class representatives six new plaintiffs: Ahmer Iqbal Abbasi, Anser Mehmood, Benamar Benatta, Ahmed Khalifa, Saeed Hammouda, and Purna Raj Bajracharya.  It also adds new detail about the high level defendants’ (including former attorney general John Ashcroft’s) involvement in the conditions and abuse challenged by Plaintiffs.

November 12, 2010 defendants moved to dismiss the Fourth Amended Complaint.

December 23, 2010 plaintiffs filed opposition to defendants' motions to dismiss.

January 12, 2011 defendants filed their Reply to plaintiffs' opposition.

March 11, 2011 oral arguments on defendants' motions to dismiss were heard before Judge Gleeson.

January 15, 2013 the Court granted in part and denied in part the Motions to Dismiss.

September 27, 2013 Plaintiffs file appeal brief in the Second Circuit.

October 4, 2013 the National Immigration Project and the American Immigration Council filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs' appeal brief.

November 26, 2013 Defendants filed their opposition briefs (here, here, here, here and here) with the Second Circuit.

December 10, 2013 Plaintiffs filed their reply brief.

Attached Files