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Supreme Court rules out lawsuits for alleged prisoner abuses

Latest update : 2009-05-18

A divided US Supreme Court has ruled that the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the attorney general and other former officials from the Bush era cannot be sued over the alleged abuse of detainees after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

AFP - A sharply divided US Supreme Court ruled Monday that the FBI director and Bush-era officials cannot be sued over the alleged abuse of terror suspects in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
In a five-to-four ruling, the justices threw out a New York federal appeals court decision that stated FBI chief Robert Mueller, former attorney general John Ashcroft and other officials under then-president George W. Bush could be found liable for alleged mistreatment of terror suspects.
The complaint, brought by Pakistani detainee Javaid Iqbal, "fails to plead sufficient facts to state a claim for purposeful and unlawful discrimination against petitioners," the court ruled.
Iqbal, a Pakistani Muslim, was arrested in November 2001 on an immigration violation shortly after the attacks and jailed for five months in 2002 in a maximum-security prison in New York.
Iqbal claims, that like hundreds of other Arab Muslims, he was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day for several months with the light always on, and that he was subjected to repeated strip searches.
He was later deported with no charges being brought against him.
Iqbal sought to have the justices recognize an established pattern of mistreatment of and discrimination against Muslim detainees by Bush administration officials as they conducted the "war on terror" and rooted out suspects in the United States and abroad.
Iqbal argued that officials such as Mueller and Ashcroft were liable for the treatment handed out to prisoners even though they were not personally involved in the handling of detainees.
"We reject this argument," the court said in its opinion.
Had Iqbal won his case, it could have opened the way for legal proceedings against Bush-era officials.
But the court ruled Iqbal's complaint "does not contain any factual allegation sufficient to plausibly suggest petitioners' discriminatory state of mind."
"Respondent must plead sufficient matter to show that petitioners adopted and implemented the detention policies at issue not for a neutral investigative reason but for the purpose of discriminating on account of race, religion, or national origin," the court opinion added.
The court recalled that in the months after September 11 the FBI questioned more than 1,000 people suspected of being linked to the attacks.
Since the attacks were carried out by Arab Muslims said to be members of the terror group Al-Qaeda, "it should come as no surprise that a legitimate policy directing law enforcement to arrest and detain individuals because of their suspected link to the attack would produce a disparate, incidental impact on Arab Muslims, even though the purpose of the policy was to target neither Arab nor Muslims," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the court opinion.
"Respondent's account of his prison ordeal alleges serious official misconduct that we need not address here," he added.
The ruling, which sends the case back to the lower courts, is a blow to human rights organizations and former detainees who had hoped to bring cases against senior US officials.

Date created : 2009-05-18