By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON Conservative Supreme Court justices on Wednesday appeared sceptical 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 deported.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. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)
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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2017 03:16:32 IST