WASHINGTON - The former U.S. attorney general and the FBI director cannot be sued by a Pakistani man who claims he was abused while imprisoned in New York after 9/11 attacks, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday.
The nation's high court overturned a ruling that Javaid Iqbal, who was held in Brooklyn's Administrative Maximum Special Housing Unit for nearly six months after the attacks, can proceed with his lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 5-4 majority's opinion, saying the suit doesn't show that either Mueller or Ashcroft singled out detainees because of their race, religion or national origin.
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"All it plausibly suggests is that the nation's top law enforcement officers, in the aftermath of a devastating attack, sought to keep suspected terrorists in the most secure conditions available until the suspects could be cleared off terrorist activity," Kennedy wrote.
The court's liberal wing of David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and John Paul Stevens, dissented.
"There is no principled basis for the majority's disregard of the allegations linking Ashcroft and Mueller to their subordinates' discrimination," Souter wrote in the dissenting opinion.
Iqbal, a Muslim, was arrested in his Long Island, N.Y., home on Nov. 2, 2001, and charged with nonviolent federal crimes unrelated to terrorism. Two months later, he was put in solitary confinement without a hearing, according to his lawyers.
Iqbal said in his 2004 lawsuit that he had suffered verbal and physical abuse, including unnecessary strip searches and brutal beatings by guards. He said he had been singled out because of unlawful ethnic and religious discrimination.
Iqbal was arrested in New York weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, and detained for a year. Despite never having been charged with terrorism, he was deported after being convicted of fraud. Iqbal argues that he was beaten in prison and his Quran was confiscated. Iqbal claimed Mueller and Ashcroft were responsible for his detention.