Sept. 11 Detention Suit Gets Scrutiny From Supreme Court

  • Justices to review appeals decision allowing claims by six
  • Former FBI director, Attorney General named in lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether foreigners who were detained for months after the Sept. 11 attacks can sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other officials.

The justices agreed to review a federal appeals decision allowing claims by six people who were in the country illegally at the time of the attacks. Their suit, which also names former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller, seeks class action status.

In an unusual twist, the case may be heard by as few as six justices. Neither Sonia Sotomayor nor Elena Kagan took part in the decision to hear the case, suggesting they have disqualified themselves because of some past involvement. One seat on the Supreme Court remains vacant after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February.

The six men, led by Ibrahim Turkmen, were detained on civil immigration charges for as long as eight months before being deported. They say they were never suspected of terrorism and were subjected to harsh conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

The Supreme Court has twice before shielded Ashcroft from lawsuits stemming from terrorism investigations. In 2011, the court unanimously threw out a suit by a Muslim U.S. citizen who was arrested in 2003 and held without charge 16 days as a material witness.

In 2009 the court ruled against a Pakistani man who said in a lawsuit that he was arrested, beaten and held in solitary confinement for five months after the Sept. 11 attacks. That 5-4 ruling said the allegations in the man’s complaint were too conclusory to go forward.

The lead case is Ziglar v. Turkmen, 15-1358.

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