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Supreme Court to Hear Case of Post-9/11 Detainee

India West, News Report, Sunita Sohrabji Posted: Dec 03, 2008

The Supreme Court Dec. 10 will hear the case of a Pakistani native who is suing top U.S. government officials for falsely imprisoning and torturing him following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In his suit against Former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller III along with 25 other government officials and prison personnel Javaid Iqbal alleged he was mistreated in a federal prison and classified as a person of interest solely because of his race and religion.

The Court will determine whether there is sufficient evidence against Ashcroft and Mueller to merit trial in a lower court. If the justices render a decision favorable to Iqbal, the case would then return to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York for trial.

A second plaintiff in the case, Egypt-native Ehab Elmaghraby, settled with the federal government for $300,000 in 2006.

Iqbal, 40, installed cable television in Long Island, New York and was married to an American. He was arrested Nov. 5, 2001 following the attacks on the World Trade Center, and confined to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

The Muslim man, who was kept confined at MDC without charges until January 2003, alleged in his suit that he was cruelly subjected to numerous instances of excessive force and verbal abuse, unlawful strip and body cavity-searches, the denial of medical treatment and extended detention in solitary confinement. Iqbal alleged he was placed in a tiny cell for more than 23 hours a day, and strip-searched, manacled and shackled when removed from his cell.

The majority of the more than 1,000 Muslims arrested in New York post-9/11 were placed in a special facility at the Brooklyn MDC known as the ADMAX SHU, which is the Federal Bureau of Prisons most restrictive type of confinement. None of them was subsequently found to have engaged in terrorist activities.

Iqbal was subjected to extremely harsh treatment, and systematic as well as individual instances of brutality, Alex Reinert, one of Iqbals attorneys, told India-West.

Iqbal was eventually deported back to Pakistan on unrelated identity theft violations, but was never found to have engaged in any terrorism-related activity. He is trying to work in Pakistan and rebuild his life, said Reinert.

Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court agreed it would hear the case, rejecting arguments by attorneys for Ashcroft and Mueller that government officials are immune from civil suits.

Immunity does not apply if officials knowingly engage in the violation of constitutional rights, said the Sikh Coalition, who recently filed an amicus brief for the case.

Ashcroft and Mueller are asking the Court to believe that the Sept. 11 context excuses wholesale discrimination and thereby insulates them from allegations of discriminatory treatment. The Constitution should not be read to encompass this proposition, wrote the Sikh Coalition in its brief.

The question becomes whether the government may, on the basis of religion alone, segregate detainees and place them into harsher conditions of confinement for national security purposes. We contend that the answer is plain that the government cannot, it said.

In a 2003 report, the Justice Department concluded that correctional officers at the Brooklyn detention facility revealed repeated physical and verbal abuse of the detainees.

We found evidence some officers slammed and bounced detainees against the wall, twisted their arms and hands in painful ways, stepped on their leg restraint chains and punished them by keeping them restrained for long periods of time," said the report, issued by the DOJs inspector general.

Civil rights attorney Dawinder Dave Sidhu, who helped the Sikh Coalition file its amicus brief, told India-West: This will be the first time the Supreme Court will address whether these high level government officials enjoy immunity from a suit for post-9/11 racial and religious discrimination.

Sidhu is a founding director of the Discrimination and National Security Initiative, which examines the mistreatment of minority communities during times of war or crisis, including the post-9/11 backlash against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim.

Iqbal has claimed that Ashcroft and Mueller ordered, knew, condoned or were aware of the discriminatory treatment, said Sidhu, adding: Iqbal alleges that because Ashcroft and Mueller were responsible for managing the nations legal response to the attacks, it is plausible that they would have at least known about the detention of over 1,000 September 11 detainees, housed at a federal prison in New York.

Harsimran Kaur, legal director for the Sikh Coalition, told India-West: The Sikh Coalition believes that our government should respect the basic rights of all people. Where constitutional violations occur and government officials are aware, those officials should be held directly responsible, said Kaur, adding that a decision favorable to Iqbal will promote the protection of constitutional rights for all people.

The constitution is important at all times, in both times of peace and times of war, said Reinert, Iqbals attorney.

Related Articles:

9/11 Seven Years Later: Civil, Human Rights Needed for All

The Truth About Guantanamo -- An Interview With Capt. James Yee

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