Justices rule ex-Bush officials can't be sued in terrorism case

Justices rule ex-Bush officials can't be sued in terrorism case
© Greg Nash

The Supreme Court on Monday said former George W. Bush administration officials can’t be held liable for the unlawful detainment and abuse suffered by undocumented immigrants detained after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In a 4-2 ruling, the court ruled that six men arrested during an investigation into the attack after they were found living in the country illegally could not sue the officials, including former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former FBI Director Robert Mueller.

The men, all of whom are of Arab or South Asian descent, claimed the federal officials violated their due process and equal protection rights by holding them in restrictive conditions of confinement.

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In delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the lawsuit could not go forward without Congressional authorization.

“If the facts alleged in the complaint are true, then what happened to respondents in the days following September 11 was tragic,” he said.

“Nothing in this opinion should be read to condone the treatment to which they contend they were subjected. The question before the Court, however, is not whether petitioners’ alleged conduct was proper, nor whether it gave decent respect to respondents’ dignity and well-being, nor whether it was in keeping with the idea of the rule of law that must inspire us even in times of crisis.”

In a lengthy dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said he would have allowed the lawsuit to go forward against the former Department of Justice officials.

“History tells us of far too many instances where the Executive or Legislative Branch took actions during time of war that, on later examination, turned out unnecessarily and unreasonably to have deprived American citizens of basic constitutional rights,” he said.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch did not take part in considering or deciding the case.