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Appeals court hears post-9/11 detainee lawsuit against Ashcroft

[JURIST] A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] sharply questioned federal officials Wednesday during oral arguments in the case of a Pakistani man who says he was detained because of his race, religion or national origin soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive] and tortured while in custody. Javaid Iqbal, who was held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn after a US immigration and security sweep [US DOJ backgrounder] picked up some 1,200 mostly Arab and Muslim men [ACLU backgrounder] in November 2001, claims he was abused and held for no legitimate reason. Iqbal sued several defendants, including former US Attorney General John Ashcroft [official profile; JURIST news archive], FBI Director Robert Mueller and former Bureau of Prisons head Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, seeking to find out whether they knew about the abuse, which allegedly included severe physical and verbal abuse, unnecessary body-cavity and strip searches, and interference with Iqbal's exercise of religion and with attempts to communicate with counsel. The defendants appealed a US district judge's decision [PDF text] last year rejecting Ashcroft's motion to dismiss the suit [JURIST report].

A lawyer for Ashcroft and Mueller argued Wednesday that the attacks created a national emergency requiring special action and that it is not apparent that his clients were involved. Other defendants argued that Iqbal's allegations of mistreatment while in custody did not give rise to a due process claim, an argument which met with harsh criticism from the panel. No terrorism charges were ever filed against Iqbal, who was deported to Pakistan for credit card fraud. A second plaintiff in the suit, Egyptian Ehab Elmaghraby, settled [JURIST report] with the US government for $300,000. In July, Algerian Benamar Benatta, the last individual believed to have been still in detention following the post 9/11 sweep was released [JURIST report]. Reuters has more. The New York Times has additional coverage.

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