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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

High Court to Dive Into Case of Post-9/11 Arrests

(CN) - The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to wade into a 14-year-old class action brought by undocumented Muslims and Arabs who were rounded up on the thinnest of pretexts and abused in jail in the months following the 9/11 terror attacks.

Lead plaintiff Ibrahim Turkmen brought his class action in 2002, claiming that then-Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller's directive to follow up on all of the 96,000 leads gleaned from a tip hotline he set up following the attacks created a dragnet that led to hundreds of mostly Muslim held in abusive custody at Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn and Passaic County Jail in New Jersey.

Turkmen's lawsuit gained traction with the release of two scathing reports by the FBI's inspector general detailing how MDC officials slammed detainees against a wall, kept them in lockdown 23 hours a day, and placed them in solitary confinement.

The men blame discrimination for their rough treatment in custody.

Prison staff allegedly referred to the men as "camel[s]," "fucking Muslims," and "Arabic asshole[s]."

Although officials said the lockups were a necessity given post-9/11 national security concerns, a Second Circuit panel ruled in 2015 that a climate of "hysteria" following the attacks caused the men's suffering and that it would take further discovery to determine whether "concern for the safety of our nation justified the violation of the constitutional rights on which this nation was built."

The panel ordered Mueller, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, former immigration chief James Ziglar and MDC wardens Dennis Hasty and James Sherman to face the class' due process, equal protection and conspiracy claims. Claims of class members held at Passaic County Jail were dismissed.

The full Second Circuit refused to revisit its panel's decision this past December, saying "it's time to move the case forward."

In taking up appeals brought by both the class and the government, the Supreme Court agreed to consider three questions: Whether the Second Circuit panel improperly refused the class' request for damages on their Fifth Amendment claims because the claims did not arise in a "new context" under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics; whether the panel improperly denied Ziglar qualified immunity; and whether the panel improperly advanced the class' fourth amended complaint, which the government says relied on hypothetical possibilities, assumption and insinuations of discrimination not backed by evidence.

Per its custom, the high court did not comment on its decision to hear the case.

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