<span class="articleLocation”>Conservative Supreme Court justices on Wednesday
appeared skeptical about allowing legal claims to proceed
against former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and others
made by non-U.S. citizens, mainly Muslims, swept up after the
Sept. 11, 2001 attacks who said they were abused in detention.
The senior officials under former President George W. Bush,
also including former FBI Director Robert Mueller and
Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James
Ziglar, have asked the justices to reverse a 2015 lower court
ruling allowing the long-running litigation to proceed.
During arguments in the case, conservative Chief Justice
John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy both questioned whether
certain claims holding senior officials personally liable should
be allowed. The court potentially could decide to allow claims
to move forward against lower-level officials in charge of the
federal detention facility in New York where the detainees were
held, but not against senior Bush administration officials.
One of the legal questions is whether the officials can be
sued based on a 1971 Supreme Court ruling in a case involving
federal drug enforcement agents that allowed such lawsuits in
limited circumstances. The court has been reluctant to extend
that ruling to other types of conduct, a sentiment Kennedy and
Roberts echoed during the one-hour argument.
The civil rights lawsuit seeks to hold the former officials
responsible for alleged abuse of immigrants after they were
rounded up following the 2001 hijacked-airliner attacks by al
Qaeda Islamic militants on the United States.
The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled
in 2015 that Ashcroft, Mueller and Ziglar could be sued, based
on the 1971 Supreme Court ruling. In 2013, a judge had dismissed
the claims against them but allowed some against detention
facility officials, including the warden, Dennis Hasty. All the
defendants sought Supreme Court review.
The suit was filed by a group of Muslim, Arab and South
Asian non-U.S. citizens who, their lawyers said, were held as
terrorism suspects based on their race, religion, ethnicity and
immigration status and abused in detention before being
They were charged only with civil immigration violations.
But they said they were subjected at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan
Detention Center to 23-hours-a-day solitary confinement, strip
searches, sleep deprivation, beatings and other abuses and
denied the ability to practice their religion.
The plaintiffs said their rights under the U.S. Constitution
to due process and equal protection under the law were violated.
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