May 1, 2014, New York – Today, attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged a federal court of appeals to allow a case to go forward against high-level Bush administration officials alleged to have ordered the post-9/11 immigration sweeps, detention, and racial and religious profiling of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men.
The plaintiffs in Turkmen v. Ashcroft
and other prisoners were swept up after the September 11 attacks on the pretext of minor immigration infractions and detained at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn as “suspected terrorists” until cleared of any connection to terrorism by the FBI. Attorneys say the government had no reason except the men’s race and religion to suspect the plaintiffs of any ties to terrorism.
In January 2013, the district court dismissed the claims against the high-level Bush officials but allowed the claims against MDC wardens and prison officials to proceed.
“These men were presumed guilty until proven innocent. The only thing they were ‘guilty’ of was being Muslim,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol. “It’s important not only to hold those who facilitated and carried out these abuses accountable, but to ensure that those who ordered and authorized the abuse are not placed above the law.”
Among other documented abuses, the Turkmen plaintiffs and other detainees were placed in solitary confinement for months. Upon entering MDC, many of the men had their faces smashed into a wall, where guards had pinned a t-shirt with a picture of an American flag and the words “These colors don’t run,” and were told, “Welcome to America.” The bloodied t-shirt hung on the wall at MDC for months.
“I never expected that being a Muslim from North Africa is reason enough to put me in jail for years, where I was subjected to degrading treatments that I wouldn’t wish on anybody,” said plaintiff Benamar Benatta. “There is no denying that officials at the Brooklyn prison were directly responsible for my torture and ill treatment, including beating and sleep deprivation, yet they were not the ones responsible for enacting those prejudiced policies. If the people behind the policies are not held accountable it will be an encouragement and will open the door for further violations in the future.”
Turkmen was filed in April 2002 against then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, former INS Commissioner James Ziglar, and officials at MDC. The MDC defendants have also appealed the lower court’s decision to allow the case against them to move forward. Both appeals were argued today.
Several plaintiffs in the suit settled their claims against the United States in 2010 for $1.26 million.
Michael Winger and Covington & Burling LLP are co-counsel on the case.