Filing Discloses Previously Protected Details from Discovery and Depositions, Supreme Court to Weigh Special Immunity for High-Level Officials
October 31, 2008, New York – Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men were targeted solely based on race, country of origin, and religion in post-9/11 immigration sweeps with the knowledge of former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller, according to a brief filed today with the Supreme Court by plaintiffs in Turkmen v. Ashcroft, Center for Constitutional Rights’s (CCR) class action challenge. The amicus brief contains information previously under a protective order and not made public until today, including the exact tips that led to the arrest of CCR’s clients and evidence of daily briefings that went up the chain of command.
The Turkmen plaintiffs filed the brief in the Koob & Magoolaghan’s case, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, a companion case that will be heard by the Supreme Court this December. The Supreme Court is to consider whether Iqbal can hold high-level officials accountable for violations of his right to equal protection—as allowed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
“The government is claiming high-level officials deserve some kind of extra-special high-level immunity by virtue of their office,” said CCR attorney Rachel Meeropol. “Plenty of protections already exist for officials doing their job. If their actions fall outside the law, they should be held accountable like everybody else.”
CCR’s brief argues that the level of detail Mueller and Ashcroft would require before allowing a case to proceed to discovery would effectively bar victims of governmental discrimination from ever holding high-ranking officials accountable for their wrongful acts. The process of discovery is precisely what allows plaintiffs to trace involvement up the chain of command. The brief offers examples of documents and depositions obtained in discovery in Turkmen that support that argument.
The brief describes the tips that led to targeting of each of the Turkmen plaintiffs and attaches the original FBI documents, previously barred from disclosure by a protective order:
- Ashraf Ibrahim was described as one of “three males, who appeared to be Arabs,” who sought to purchase a used truck to carry water and gave “vague” answers to questions about what kind of containers the water would be carried in and whom they would deliver it to.
- Baloch was “a male, possibly Arab,” with a fake Social Security card.
- Sachdeva was said to have been speaking in Arabic (although in fact he is a Hindu from India), and to have talked about “flying and flight simulators.”
- Saffi, a Pakis¬tani by birth, appears to have been arrested solely because he had been refused admission to Canada.
- There was nothing to show a reason for suspicion of Turkmen in the FBI file produced by the United States except a tip concerning three other Turkish men, apparently based on their being Turkish.
The Turkmen plaintiffs argue that Ashcroft and Mueller must be held accountable for this discrimination, as documents uncovered through discovery indicate they were provided detailed daily briefings and information about who was being arrested, and why. The brief also provides quotes from interviews of Ashcroft, Mueller, and their subordinates taken in the course of the Office of the Inspector General’s investigation of the 9/11 detentions.
“If the government applied the rule Ashcroft now wants to itself, major investigations would never get off the ground,” said co-counsel Michael Winger of the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP. “How are Mafia bosses caught? By starting at street level and working up the chain of command.”
CCR’s class action, Turkmen v. Ashcroft, was filed in September 2002 to challenge the arbitrary detention and mistreatment of immigration detainees by prison guards and high level Bush administration officials in the wake of 9/11. With no evidence of any connection to terrorism, hundreds of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men were rounded up on the basis of racial and religious profiling and subject to unlawful detention and abuse at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, NY.
All of the men were eventually deported, though several of the plaintiffs returned to New York under strict conditions to participate in depositions for their case against the government in early 2006.
The suit names as defendants then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, former INS Commissioner James Ziglar, and officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where the plaintiffs were held. The plaintiffs include Muslim men from Pakistan and Egypt who were detained at the MDC, along with others held at Passaic County Jail in New Jersey. Despite the fact that the government never charged any of the plaintiffs with a terrorism-related offense, the INS kept them in detention for between four to nine months, long past the resolution of their immigration cases.
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 24 hours a 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. Some of the abuse includes severe beatings and sleep deprivation. The allegations of inhumane and degrading treatment have been substantiated by two reports of the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, and several defendants in the case have recently been convicted on federal charges of beatings and cover-ups of other prisoners around the same time period.
For more information on the case and to read related documents, see the Turkmen v. Ashcroft case page
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.