“Immigration law cannot be used as a short-cut around the Fourth Amendment,” said CCR lead attorney Rachel Meeropol. “Just because the executive wants to investigate a non-citizen, doesn’t mean high-level officials can ignore the law. This should be made even more clear by the abuse our clients suffered while they were deprived of access to friends, family or counsel.”
Supporters filled the Ceremonial Courtroom as the three-judge panel asked challenging questions of all parties; the arguments, which the judges allowed to go beyond their allotted time, lasted for an hour and forty-five minutes.
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.
CCR attorneys say that the government deliberately avoided the requirements of the Fourth Amendment and tried to avoid judicial oversight by placing the men in immigration rather than criminal detention when the sole purpose of the round-ups was to investigate so-called terrorist threats and should have proceeded under criminal law.
“John Ashcroft and other high-level officials have been trying to avoid accountability for the mass and indiscriminate round-up of innocent men after 9/11 for too long. As the architects of a plan to deprive these individuals of their rights, the blame for what happened to these men is squarely on their shoulders,” said co-counsel Michael Winger of the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP.
In June 2006, a district court dismissed CCR's challenges to the prolonged detention of the Turkmen plaintiffs but allowed the conditions of confinement and racial discrimination claims to proceed. In today’s cross-appeal, CCR defended the victory in the lower court that kept the high-level officials in the case and appealed the dismissal of the profiling and illegal detention claims, arguing that plaintiffs’ constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, due process clause and equal protection clause were violated. The portion of the case against low-level officers for religious discrimination, abuse and conditions of confinement is proceeding independent of the outcome of this appeal.
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, sleep deprivation, and forced nudity. 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.
Yasser Ebrahim, one of the men caught in the sweeps and now living in Egypt, said, “We were deprived of our rights and abused simply because of our religion and the color of our skin. I am still waiting for justice more than six years later.”
For more information on the case and to read related documents, visit the Turkmen v. Ashcroft case page.
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.