National Security

Court prohibits lawsuit against FBI for alleged abuse

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An American citizen imprisoned abroad cannot sue the FBI agents who allegedly threatened to torture him, a top federal court ruled Friday.

A split ruling from a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declared that the agents were protected from those suits because the actions took place overseas and during a terrorism investigation.

{mosads}It’s up to either Capitol Hill or the Supreme Court to determine whether people like New Jersey resident Amir Meshal can file their lawsuits, Judge Janice Rogers Brown concluded — not her court.

“If people like Meshal are to have recourse to damages for alleged constitutional violations committed during a terrorism investigation occurring abroad, either Congress or the Supreme Court must specify the scope of the remedy,” she wrote.

Meshal traveled to Somalia in 2006, but fled to neighboring Kenya when violence broke out in the war-torn country.

In January of 2007, he was arrested in a joint-U.S.-Kenyan operation and then subjected to a lengthy FBI interrogation about suspected connections to al Qaeda over the next four months. During that time, Meshal claimed to have been transferred between Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, where he was denied access to a lawyer and kept in frightening cave-like conditions.

While he was imprisoned, Meshal lost approximately 80 pounds. He was never charged with a crime. 

Meshal tried to sue the FBI agents that he says violated his constitutional rights to privacy and due process. However, a lower court tossed that case out last year.

Courts “have tread carefully” when asked to determine whether people can sue federal officials “in new contexts, especially in cases within the national security arena,” Brown wrote in her Friday opinion upholding the lower court’s decision.

“Meshal asks us to paddle upstream against this deep current of authority.”

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Nina Pillard wrote that there is “no dispute that [Meshal] could have sought redress” if the actions had happened in the U.S.

The government’s “position is that an American citizen who ventures beyond our borders has no legal remedy against arbitrary and prolonged detention and mistreatment at the hands of FBI agents — so long as those agents were sent overseas to protect United States interests,” Pillard added.

“I cannot conclude that either the Supreme Court or our court has ever read the Constitution and laws of the United States to support that result.” 

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