By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, Jan 17 (Reuters) - A group of men detained for
immigration violations in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks
cannot proceed with a lawsuit accusing federal officials of
violating their constitutional rights, a federal judge in
Brooklyn has ruled.
U.S. District Judge John Gleeson said Tuesday that the eight
men could, however, pursue similar claims against the jail
officials who implemented the post-9/11 detention policies.
The lawsuit was filed in 2002, one of several challenging
the constitutionality of the U.S. government's apprehension and
detention policies following the Sept. 11 attacks.
The plaintiffs were eight non-U.S. citizens, including
Muslims from Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria and Turkey, as well as
natives of India and Nepal. In the weeks following the attacks,
they said they were held in federal custody on the pretext of
minor immigration violations while the FBI investigated them for
potential links to terrorism.
The plaintiffs claim they and other Arab and Muslim
detainees were subjected to harsh treatment and abuse at the
hands of jail officials. They also said they were strip-searched
without justification and that jail officials interfered when
they attempted to practice their religion.
Two groups of defendants were named in the suit. The first
included top-level government officials -- former U.S. attorney
general John Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller and former
Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner James Ziglar
-- who plaintiffs said were responsible for developing federal
policies that led to their detention. The second included five
former Metropolitan Detention Center wardens and officials, who
plaintiffs said implemented the detention practices.
The lawsuit seeks class action status on behalf of Arab or
Muslim individuals -- or individuals who appeared to be Arab or
Muslim -- who were detained for immigration violations at either
the MDC in Brooklyn or Passaic Jail in New Jersey after Sept. 11
and subjected to similar treatment.
The defendants moved in 2010 to dismiss the complaint. On
Tuesday, Gleeson dismissed claims against Mueller, Ashcroft and
SOME CLAIMS CAN PROCEED
Gleeson cited the landmark 2009 Ashcroft v. Iqbal, where the
U.S. Supreme Court decided that a post-9/11 detainee had no
standing to sue top government officials without showing their
policies were intended to discriminate.
Mueller, Ashcroft and Ziglar "were entitled to expect that
their subordinates would implement their directions lawfully,
and I cannot reasonably infer that the failure to make that
expectation explicit suggests punitive intent," Gleeson wrote.
The jail officials did not qualify for immunity because they
had a more direct role in overseeing and implementing jail
policies, Gleeson said.
The ruling allows the plaintiffs to proceed with claims
against the MDC defendants for constitutional violations
stemming from allegedly harsh confinement conditions,
unnecessary strip searches and interference with their religious
practices. Gleeson dismissed several other claims, including one
for allegedly blocking the plaintiffs from communicating with
friends or lawyers for several weeks after they were detained.
An attorney representing the plaintiffs, Rachel Meeropol,
said that she was disappointed with the part of the ruling
dismissing the claims against the government officials. However,
"this decision means the case isn't over," she said.
Representatives for the U.S. attorney's offices for the
Eastern District of Virginia and the District of Columbia, which
represented Ashcroft and Mueller, respectively, declined to
comment. Attorneys for the other parties did not immediately
return requests for comment.
The case is Turkmen v. Ashcroft, U.S. District Court for the
Eastern District of New York, No. 02-2307.
For the plaintiffs: Rachel Meeropol, George Gardner, William
Quigley, Sunita Patel and Michael Winger of the Center for
Constitutional Rights; Joanne Sum-Ping, Kimberly Zelnick and
Stephanie Yu of Covington & Burling.
For Ashcroft: Dennis Barghaan of the U.S. Attorney's Office
for the Eastern District of Virginia.
For Mueller: R. Craig Lawrence of the U.S. Attorney's Office
for the District of Columbia.
For Ziglar: William McDaniel.
For the MDC defendants: Joshua Klein of Duval & Stachenfeld
and Debra Roth of Shaw Bransford Veilleux & Roth.
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