April 24, 2013, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights appealed the decision of a federal court judge to dismiss a lawsuit against high-level Bush administration officials for their role in the post-9/11 immigration sweeps, detention and racial and religious profiling of Muslim, Arab and South Asian men. The judge allowed the claims against the wardens and prison officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, to go forward but dismissed the claims against the high-level officials alleged to have ordered the abuse at issue in the case, Turkmen v. Ashcroft.
Said CCR Senior Attorney Rachel Meeropol,“Time and again the victims of post 9/11 government abuse have found the courtroom doors shut to them. It is critical that prison officials be held accountable for their egregious behavior, but we must also ensure that high-level officials do not get a free pass to discriminate and order abuse.”
The Turkmen plaintiffs and other 9/11 detainees were placed in solitary confinement for months on end, even though they were only charged with civil immigration violations like overstaying a visa or working without authorization. Though the government had no reason beyond their race and religion to consider them dangerous, they were detained as “suspected terrorists” until cleared of any connection to terrorism by the FBI, and then deported. Among other documented abuses in detention, many of the 9/11 detainees 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.” The men were slammed against the t-shirt upon their entrance to MDC and told “welcome to America.” The t-shirt was smeared with blood, yet it stayed up on the wall at MDC for months.
Said plaintiff Benamar Benatta, "It has been a long struggle for justice. I've suffered irreversible health damages and truly desire an end to this ongoing and draining process. Despite it all, I've maintained my faith in the justice system and can only hope that my lengthy struggle will result in exposing the truth, greater government accountability, and legal and political changes that will ensure that no one will ever have to endure the same treatment that I experienced at the hands of U.S. authorities during that awful time."
The suit, originally filed in April 2002, 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 MDC Defendants have also appealed. They are seeking review of the District Court’s denial of their motion to dismiss the claims based on qualified immunity. The two appeals will likely be consolidated and heard together some time in the fall.
The Turkmen plaintiffs are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, cooperating attorney Michael Winger, and Covington & Burling, LLP.