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Government, Politics & Issues

Ashcroft's actions after 9/11 subject of Supreme Court case

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: June 16, 2008 - The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear the government’s appeal from a decision permitting a Pakistani man to sue Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller for keeping him locked up after 9/11 based solely on his nationality.

Javaid Iqbal, who had been known as the cable guy on Long Island, was arrested two months after 9/11 for credit card fraud. He maintains that because he was a Middle Eastern man he was transferred to maximum security where he says he was beaten, strip-searched daily and kept in a cell where the lights were on all day and night.

Iqbal claims he was subjected to this treatment because of the Ashcroft-Mueller policy of classifying hundreds of men from the Middle East as persons of “high interest,” regardless of whether there was any reason to connect them to the attacks.

The government tried to persuade the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of appeals to dismiss the suit before trial, arguing that Ashcroft and Mueller could not be held accountable for the actions of the prison officials. The appeals court refused to dismiss, saying that it was plausible Iqbal could show that Ashcroft and Mueller were aware of the way Middle Eastern men were being detained until they could prove they had no terrorist connections.

Judge Jon Newman wrote for the court that Iqbal's claims, if true, were conduct "any reasonable competent officer would understand to have been illegal under prior case law."

The government asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case, which it did on Monday. Arguments will be scheduled next term. The Supreme Court will not be deciding whether Ashcroft's actions were right or wrong, just whether Iqbal can get his case into court. Iqbal filed his suit after he was deported.

What do you think? Should high government officials have to answer for the implementation of policies like Ashcroft's "high interest" policy? Do the circumstances right after 9/11 provide a reason to give top official more leeway in their actions?  

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