August 8, 2016, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) opposed the Obama administration’s request that the U.S. Supreme Court review an appellate court ruling that high-level former Bush administration officials may be sued for their roles in the post-9/11 immigration detentions, abuse, and profiling of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men. The former officials named as defendants in the case are FBI director Robert Mueller, INS Commissioner James Ziglar, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is alleged to have ordered the INS and FBI to search out individuals with ties to terrorism by, among other means, looking for Muslim-sounding names in the phonebook.
The plaintiffs in Turkmen v. Ashcroft and other men detained after 9/11, though only charged with civil immigration violations such as overstaying a visa or working without authorization, were placed in solitary confinement for months, physically abused, and held until they were cleared of any connection to terrorism by the FBI, then deported. The government considered them dangerous based solely on their race and religion.
“To treat all Muslim men as terrorists until proven innocent is to revive the same profiling and group suspicion rightfully reviled since Japanese internment,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Rachel Meeropol. “My clients have been fighting for justice for 14 years. Now, more than ever, our courts must send a strong message that racial and religious profiling violates the law, and those who engage in it will be held accountable.”
In a detailed, 109-page decision in June 2015, a panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated claims against the former Bush officials, writing:
[W]e simply cannot conclude at this stage that concern for the safety of our nation justified the violation of the constitutional rights on which this nation was built. The question at this stage of the litigation is whether the MDC Plaintiffs have plausibly pleaded that the Defendants exceeded the bounds of the Constitution in the wake of 9/11. We believe that they have.
The Obama administration asked the full Second Circuit court to review that decision, but that request was denied. In an opinion concurring with the denial, Judges Richard C. Wesley and Rosemary S. Pooler wrote:
This case has drawn this Court’s attention now for over thirteen years. The majority opinion and dissent have analyzed many arguments … and hundreds of cases. The length of our efforts now fills many pages. In our view, it is time to move the case forward.
Among other documented abuses, many of the 9/11 detainees had their faces smashed into a wall where guards had pinned a t-shirt with the image 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 shirt was smeared with blood and stayed up on the wall at MDC for months.
CCR client Ahmer Abbasi explains, “The days I spent behind the bars were the worst days of my life. I was absolutely unaware of the charges— officers coming to us telling us that we are the suspected terrorists made us believe that we are not in the USA, but somewhere in Afghanistan. I kept asking myself: what is wrong with these people, what made them believe that I was a culprit? I know they knew from the first day that they got a wrong guy, but they kept me in custody long after that.”
The appellate court also allowed claims against the MDC warden and other prison administrators to proceed, and those lower-level defendants have also appealed to the Supreme Court.
To learn more about the case, visit the Turkmen v. Ashcroft case page.
The Turkmen plaintiffs are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, cooperating attorney Michael Winger, and Covington & Burling, LLP.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.