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Who's at fault for harsh antiterror tactics?

The US Supreme Court will decide whether senior Bush administration officials were responsible for detainee mistreatment after 9/11.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 9, 2008

Culpable? FBI director Robert Mueller and former Attorney General John Ashcroft (not shown) say they had no knowledge of any alleged mistreatment of a Pakistani man held in solitary confinement for five months after the terrorist attacks of September 2001. An appeals court said they could have.

Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor/FILE

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Washington

The US Supreme Court this week takes up a case examining whether cabinet-level officials in the Bush White House can be held legally accountable for the administration's controversial tactics in the war on terror.

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At issue is an attempt to force former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI director Robert Mueller to stand trial with federal agents, prison guards, and their supervisors. They are all named in a lawsuit filed by a Pakistani man who was held as a terror suspect for five months in solitary confinement in a US prison although there was no evidence connecting him to terrorism.

The case is set for oral argument on Wednesday.

Javaid Iqbal was among hundreds of Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims who were swept up in a massive government dragnet in the New York City area in the weeks and months after the Sept. 11 attacks. Most of the men were arrested on valid immigration-related charges. But instead of being housed in an immigration detention center to await deportation, some of the men – including Mr. Iqbal – were taken to a maximum security section of a federal prison in Brooklyn.

Iqbal's lawsuit alleges that he was subjected to "brutal mistreatment and discrimination" by federal officials who arbitrarily classified him as a Sept. 11 suspect "of high interest" to the FBI solely because he was a Muslim from Pakistan.

Many of Iqbal's claims are consistent with the findings of an April 2003 report by the Department of Justice's Inspector General. The report criticized officials for establishing a system that punished detainees and treated them as guilty until proven innocent. The report said many Muslim men were held under harsh conditions on baseless leads that the FBI took months to investigate and disprove.

The suit alleges systematic mistreatment, including being held 23 hours a day in a solitary confinement cell with the windows painted over and the lights always on. Iqbal was given minimal bedding. The air conditioning was run in the winter, the heat turned on in the summer. He was subjected to daily strip and body-cavity searches. The guards once forced him to submit to three consecutive body-cavity searches in a row while still in the same room. When he protested a fourth search, he was punched and kicked by the guards, the suit alleges. By the time he was released, he'd lost 40 pounds.

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