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Federal appeals court says Ashcroft immune from post-9/11 detainee lawsuit

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] that former US attorney general John Ashcroft [JURIST news archive] is entitled to absolute immunity from the claims of a Muslim American detained for two weeks after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 [JURIST news archive]. The ruling is consistent with the recent US Supreme Court [official website] decision [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in Ashcroft v. al-Kidd [Cornell LII Backgrounder] that reversed the appeal court's denial of Ashcroft's motion to dismiss. Ashcroft had appealed the decision [JURIST report] of the Ninth Circuit appeals court that absolute and qualified [AELE backgrounders] immunity do not shield him from the suit. Al-Kidd, an American citizen who was detained pursuant to a material witness warrant later found to be factually inaccurate, had argued that qualified immunity did not apply because the detention violated his Fourth Amendment [text] rights. The Supreme Court ruled 8-0, with four concurrences, to reverse and remand the appeal court's decision, holding that Ashcroft did not violate clearly established law and was thus entitled to qualified immunity. The Supreme Court also ruled that a witness in a terror investigation cannot challenge the constitutionality of an objectively reasonable arrest pursuant to a validly obtained warrant even if the government did not call or had no intention of calling the witness for trial.

Various courts have issued opinions on claims filed by detainees against the government in relation to the post-9/11 detentions. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] in December 2009 that post-arrest detention is legal in cases where the detainees are reasonably detained. In November 2009, five men who claim they were illegally detained after 9/11 reached a settlement agreement [CCR release; JURIST report] with the US government for $1.26 million. In 2007, a district court judge granted the government's motion to dismiss [text, PDF] a number of those claims against Bush administration officials and law enforcement organizations in Turkmen v. Ashcroft [CCR backgrounder], but refused to dismiss the abuse claims. Also in 2007, the government criminally charged [JURIST report] several guards at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn [official website], the location in which men were detained, with abusing prisoners.

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