Muslim’s Suit for Harsh Detention Allowed

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A federal appeals court has refused to dismiss a lawsuit challenging harsh prison conditions filed by a Muslim detained as a person of interest after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The suit names as defendants former Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller and other government officials. The case is Iqbal v. Hasty (PDF), No. 05-5768-cv (L).

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in New York City ruled yesterday that the suit could go forward, with the exception of allegations alleging a violation of due process.

“The serious allegations of gross mistreatment set forth in the complaint suffice, except as noted in this opinion, to defeat the defendants’ attempt to terminate the lawsuit at a preliminary stage,” the court said.

The suit by Javaid Iqbal claims he was he was considered a person of “high interest” merely because of his religion and national origin.

He says he spent part of his time in solitary confinement, where lights were left on 24 hours a day, and guards turned on and off air conditioning and heat to create hot and cold conditions. He was subjected to daily body cavity searches and lost 40 pounds during his detention, the suit says.

Prison officials also interfered in his communications with this attorney, turning off his phone if he complained about prison conditions and delaying his legal mail for up to two months, the suit alleges.

Iqbal also says he was beaten twice and denied medical care after the second beating, despite excruciating pain.

Iqbal was cleared of any connection to terrorism and deported after he pleaded guilty to fraud, the Associated Press reports. A second plaintiff in the suit settled his claim for $300,000.

The defendants had claimed their qualified immunity defense should be considered favorably in light of the conditions following Sept. 11. The court mostly rejected that claim.

“Most of the rights that the plaintiff contends were violated do not vary with surrounding circumstances, such as the right not to be subjected to needlessly harsh conditions of confinement, the right to be free from the use of excessive force, and the right not to be subjected to ethnic or religious discrimination,” the court said. “The strength of our system of constitutional rights derives from the steadfast protection of those rights in both normal and unusual times.”

The court said the defendants should be afforded another chance to seek summary judgment after targeted discovery if the evidence shows they were not personally involved enough to support a finding of personal liability, the court said.

Haeyoung Yoon of the Urban Justice Center represented Iqbal. “This is unprecedented. This case is basically trying to hold the highest federal officials of our government accountable for what happened,” he told the New York Sun.

AP reports that Iqbal was among 184 of 762 people arrested after the Sept. 11 attacks who were held in maximum-security conditions because they were determined to be of high interest.

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