Case of justice officials charged with torture to go forward
One of the appalling features of the US justice system is the fact that members of the government have been able to escape prosecution for authorizing and carrying out torture even though torture is blatantly illegal. Now there is a small chance that this might change.
This is not because the government is bringing charges against torturers. The Obama administration has refused to do so and continues to shield torturers while prosecuting those who revealed its existence. But the Center for Constitutional Rights, non-profit organization that deals with human rights cases, took up the case on behalf of people who had been victimized.
A US appeals court on Wednesday reinstated a claim against former attorney general John Ashcroft and other Justice Department officials, stemming from the abuse of Arab and Muslim men and others detained for months in New York and New Jersey after the September 11 attacks.
The unusual decision cleared the way for once-anonymous plaintiffs to advance charges that the top officials in the Justice Department had violated their constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law. The suit seeks class-action status for all detainees similarly abused.
A lower court had found that Ashcroft and his co-defendants, former FBI director Robert Mueller and former INS commissioner James Ziglar, had not been sufficiently linked to the abuse of detainees to support the plaintiffs’ claims.
In its reversal of that decision, the US court of appeals for the second circuit asserted that the justice department officials had put policies into place that were conducive to the abuse, that they knew the abuse was happening and that they knew the detainees weren’t terrorism suspects.
The article describes the cases of some of the eight victims who brought the suit 13 years ago.
The complaint details gratuitous strip searches, beatings, broken bones and verbal abuse. In one case, a Buddhist from Nepal who had lived in the United States for five years was arrested for filming a Queens street, and held and abused in a Brooklyn detention center for three months.
In another, a Pakistani father of four was arrested at his New Jersey home after his wife’s brother’s name came up in a separate investigation. The father convinced agents to take him instead of his wife because his youngest child was still breastfeeding. He was beaten up, thrown into walls, shackled and threatened with death during four months in custody.
Of course, all this means is that the case can go forward and there are still major hurdles to be overcome. And one might hope that people higher than Ashcroft and Mueller will also be prosecuted.
But it is at least a start towards some accountability.