New legal fight over U.S. antiterror tactics
The Supreme Court agrees to examine if high-level officials can be sued for harsh policies.
Four days after handing the Bush administration a major setback in its approach to the war on terror, the US Supreme Court has set the stage for another showdown over controversial antiterror policies.Skip to next paragraph
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On Monday, the nation's highest court agreed to decide how much evidence is needed to sustain a lawsuit seeking to hold former Attorney General John Ashcroft and current FBI Director Robert Mueller personally responsible for harsh antiterror policies that allegedly led to abuses of Muslim detainees in US prisons.
The issue is important because it could open the way to thousands of lawsuits by Muslims who were rounded up and subjected to harsh conditions of confinement during the investigation following the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. More significantly, it could open the door to private lawsuits against other cabinet-level members of the Bush administration allegedly involved in developing controversial antiterror policies.
The issue arises in a suit filed by a Pakistani Muslim held for seven months in solitary confinement in a Brooklyn prison after being wrongly suspected of involvement in terrorism after 9/11. Javaid Iqbal was deported to Pakistan after the FBI determined he was not a terrorist.
Mr. Iqbal filed suit in federal court in Brooklyn against a range of US officials who he says were responsible for his alleged abusive treatment. His suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages not only against the prison officials who he says personally beat and abused him but also against their supervisors – including then-Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller.
Three different appeals were filed on behalf of various government supervisors asking the Supreme Court to take up the case and dismiss the lawsuit.
One was filed on behalf of Ashcroft and Mueller. The Bush administration asked that the other two appeals be held without action, pending the outcome of the Ashcroft/Mueller case. The two other appeals were filed on behalf of Dennis Hasty, a former warden of the Brooklyn prison, and three senior supervisors with the federal Bureau of Prisons.
In addition, the justices also considered taking up a similar appeal involving a class action lawsuit against supervisors at a maximum security psychiatric hospital in California filed by violent sex offenders being held there. That appeal, like the two other Iqbal appeals, are presumably being held by the court pending its decision in the Ashcroft/Mueller case. The court does not routinely announce whether it is holding cases.