BROOKLYN, NY - The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) today urged a federal court judge to reject the government’s efforts to halt a class action civil rights lawsuit on behalf of eight Muslim, South Asian and Arab non-citizens swept up by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and FBI in a religious profiling dragnet following 9/11. The lawsuit, Turkmen v. Ashcroft, challenges their placement in supermaximum security detention and abuse by prison guards and high level Bush administration officials.
CCR argued the suit meets the standards for holding federal officials accountable for civil rights violations articulated in the 2009 Supreme Court case Ashcroft v. Iqbal, a case also involving mistreatment of post 9/11 detainees. In that case the high court ruled that the plaintiff’s pleadings were not specific enough to bring an equal protection claim against high level government officials.
In the complaint the Center for Constitutional Rights introduced new facts regarding high level involvement in the racial profiling and abuse, including allegations that former Attorney General Ashcroft ordered the INS and FBI to investigate individuals for ties to terrorism by, among other means, looking for Muslim-sounding names in the phonebook. In the resulting dragnet, hundreds of men were arrested, many based on anonymous and discriminatory tips called in to the FBI. The complaint also discloses, in some cases for the first time, the discriminatory and nonsensical tips that led to each plaintiff’s arrest and detention. Lead plaintiff Mr. Turkmen, for example, was arrested after his landlady called the FBI to report that she rented an apartment to several Middle Eastern men, and “she would feel awful if her tenants were involved in terrorism and she didn’t call.”
“Our pleadings make crystal clear that John Ashcroft, Robert Mueller and other high level officials were intimately engaged in directing the religious and racial profiling that led to the abuse of our clients,” said CCR staff attorney Rachel Meeropol, who argued the case. “For almost ten years now, former 9/11 detainees have been fighting for acknowledgment that government officials, no matter what exalted position they hold, cannot get away with ordering abuse and profiling,” she explained. “This battle is far from over.”
Among other documented abuses in detention, many of the 9/11 detainees had their faces smashed into a wall where guards had pinned a t-shirt with a picture of an American flag and the words, “These colors don’t run.” The men were slammed against the t-shirt upon their entrance to MDC and told “welcome to America.” The t-shirt was smeared with blood, yet it stayed up on the wall at MDC for months.
CCR’s Executive Director, Vince Warren drew a parallel between the Turkmen case and yesterday’s hearings before the House Homeland Security Committee on the “radicalization” of American Muslims:
“The King hearings are different in form, but they send the same message to Muslims in the U.S. and around the world: you are suspect because of your race and religion, and your rights count less than those of white, non-Muslim, Americans.”
Turkmen was first brought against former Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, former INS Commissioner James Ziglar and employees of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York in 2002. Although the five original plaintiffs have settled their claims with the U.S., the lawsuit continues to seek damages against those government officials for their creation of a policy of religious and racial profiling and harsh treatment of hundreds of non-citizens detained after 9/11. The men were detained for months in super maximum security conditions because of their religion and ethnicity. During this time, they were abused, held without charges, and treated as terrorists without any evidence to connect them to terrorism.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.