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Court ruling could protect top Bush officials from terror lawsuits

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The high court decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal will help insulate high-level government officials – and former Bush administration officials – from similar war-on-terror lawsuits. At the same time, it will make it significantly more difficult for current or former terror suspects and their lawyers to obtain judicial oversight of their treatment by the US government.

Similar civil lawsuits are pending in the federal courts against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Justice Department legal advisor John Yoo, among others.

In his dissent, Justice Souter said the majority decision undercuts the possibility of suing government supervisors for the unconstitutional actions of their subordinates. Such suits were authorized in a 1971 Supreme Court case called Bivens.

"Lest there be any mistake," Souter wrote, "the majority is not narrowing the scope of supervisory liability; it is eliminating Bivens supervisory liability entirely."

Javaid Iqbal's case

The decision arises from a lawsuit filed by Javaid Iqbal, a Pakistani Muslim, who sought to hold Mueller and Ashcroft accountable for harsh detention and interrogation methods used against him and other Muslim men arrested in New York City in the days and weeks after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

The Iqbal case began in November 2001 when Mr. Iqbal was taken into custody and falsely labeled a terror suspect "of high interest" by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Iqbal was held for 14 months – nearly half of them in a maximum security solitary-confinement cell – despite the lack of evidence of any involvement in terrorism.

His lawsuit charged that he was singled out because of his Muslim religion and Middle Eastern appearance. It said he was subjected to harsh treatment, including beatings, unnecessary body-cavity searches, and being held in an isolation cell with no ability to communicate with family, counsel, or other detainees.

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