Rachel Meeropol on HuffPost Live on Turkmen v. Ashcroft

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Huffington Post

May, 2014


NEW YORK -- Justice Department lawyers faced tough questioning from federal judges Thursday over whether former high-level officials like John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller III can be held accountable for abuses of immigration detainees in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Tell me now who did it," Judge Richard Wesley, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, asked. "Someone had to say it's the FBI's call."

But the Justice Department lawyers would not say who decided to place the fate of more than 700 Arabs and Muslims swept up on immigration violations under the FBI's control. Ashcroft was then the attorney general, Mueller the director of the FBI.

For more than a decade since Ibrahim Turkmen and other detainees filed their lawsuit in 2002, government lawyers and civil liberties advocates have been fighting a complicated battle over who can be held responsible for the harsh treatment they experienced.

After the FBI designated them all as persons of interest in the 9/11 attacks, often on the flimsiest of evidence, the Arabs and Muslims were held in jails for months under conditions as harsh as those at the federal "supermax" prison in Florence, Colorado. They were banned from talking to lawyers, prevented from reading the Quran and, in some cases, slammed against walls.

Two withering reports from the Justice Department's inspector general blasted those jailhouse conditions, but no high-level official from the George W. Bush administration has ever been held accountable. The class action lawsuit against Ashcroft, Mueller and others has instead faltered, hobbled by the 2009 Supreme Court ruling in a similar case, Ashcroft v. Iqbal.

In the Iqbal case, the court ruled that wronged immigrants could only proceed with a lawsuit against Ashcroft and Mueller if they had a "plausible" claim that those officials knew about or directed unconstitutional discrimination. Because those plaintiffs had been denied discovery -- the legal process by which they might have been able to probe the government's documents for more evidence -- their case was fatally hamstrung.

Read the full piece here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/01/911-immigration-sweeps_n_5248099.html