New York court hears appeal of 9/11 detainees

NEW YORK — A government lawyer representing former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former FBI Director Robert Mueller was grilled by a federal appeals court Thursday over questions about their role in the roundup of hundreds of Muslim and Arab men in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

At a hearing of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, Judge Richard C. Wesley expressed disbelief when the Justice Department lawyer, H. Thomas Byron, couldn’t say who decided to put the FBI in charge of a program to detain the men in immigration violations and pressure them to cooperate in the terror investigation.

“Tell me now — who did it?” Wesley demanded.

When Byron said he didn’t know, the judge shot back, “Then maybe the former attorney general of the United States knows. It wasn’t an accident that the FBI took over. … Who made the decision? Someone had to say, ‘It’s the FBI’s call.’”

The hearing stemmed from a decision last year by U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson to dismiss claims against Ashcroft and Mueller in a lawsuit alleging the detainees were abused for months at federal jail in Brooklyn. The judge allowed claims against jail personnel to go forward.

The lawsuit alleges that in the months following 9/11, Ashcroft and Mueller “met regularly with a small group of government officials in Washington and mapped out ways to exert maximum pressure” on detainees and to convince law enforcement that they were suspected terrorists who “needed to be encouraged in any way possible to cooperate.”

Rachel Meeropol argued Thursday that the dragnet resulted in widespread ethnic and religious profiling of innocent men. Once in custody, the men were held in isolation in a high security unit where the lights were never turned off and they were regularly shackled and strip-searched.

“Everyone who was arrested was subjected to maximum pressure,” she said. “It was an investigation with absolutely no vetting.”

Lawyers for Ashcroft and Mueller have claimed the detentions were legal and based on a legitimate law enforcement effort to locate other potential Sept. 11 terror suspects. They argue the pair never specified how the men should be confined, so can’t be held liable for any abuses.

The three-judge panel put off a decision on the issue.

US authorizes the killing of an American radical Muslim cleric

The Obama Administration has authorized the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki is an American Muslim who is believed to be living in Yemen encouraging and recruiting for attacks against the US. Al-Awlaki has been linked to the 9/11 hijackers as well as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who unsuccessfully tried to explode himself in a flight to Detroit on Christmas Day. Al-Awlaki has been also linked by US intelligence to Major Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people last November at Fort Hood. He is now added to the CIA target list