Of Mice And Men (And Soda Bottles)

ladyjustice1This New York Times story from yesterday tells us about Javaid Iqbal, a Muslim man from Pakistan who used to be a cable television installer on Long Island, who…

…was among thousands of Muslim men rounded up after the Sept. 11 attacks. Some of them were considered to be “of high interest,” and they were held in a special housing unit of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

While there, Mr. Iqbal said, he was subjected to daily body-cavity searches, beatings and extreme temperatures. He said he was kept in solitary confinement with the lights in his cell constantly on, that he was called a terrorist and a “Muslim killer,” and that he lost 40 pounds during six months in the special unit.

He eventually pleaded guilty to identity fraud and was deported to Pakistan.

As a result, he sued former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller on the grounds that they “implemented the policies that led to the abuse and condoned it,” and the case is now being argued in front of The Supremes (with the predictable denials from Ashcroft and Mueller)…

The two officials say that they are immune from suit, a contention rejected by the federal appeals court in Manhattan last year, at least at the most preliminary stage of the case. In the Supreme Court, the officials argued that Mr. Iqbal’s assertions that they were responsible for any abuses he suffered were speculative and lacked supporting factual allegations.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that a 2003 report from the Justice Department’s inspector general may “lend some plausibility” to Mr. Iqbal’s claims. The report found serious abuses by the (detention center’s) personnel.

(Solicitor General Gregory G. Garre, representing Ashcroft and Mueller) urged the justices to ignore the report, saying it was outside the scope of the litigation. But he said the report had made findings helpful to his clients’ contention that their own actions, at least, were lawful.

So…ignore the bad stuff in the report, but remember the good stuff that helps my clients, huh? Typical Bushco…

But not to worry – this is the high court of Hangin’ Judge J.R., let’s not forget (we hear from Justice Breyer first, though)…

Justice Stephen G. Breyer asked a hypothetical question: would a plaintiff be allowed to pursue a lawsuit against the president of Coca-Cola on the bare accusation that the president had personally put mice in soda bottles?

Uhh….come again?

Other justices engaged the question, considering whether such a lawsuit would be subject to sanctions on the grounds that it was frivolous and whether the company’s president would have to submit to questioning under oath at a deposition.

“How are we supposed to judge whether we think it’s more unlikely that the president of Coca-Cola would take certain actions,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked Mr. Iqbal’s lawyer, Alexander A. Reinert, “as opposed to the attorney general of the United States?”

WHAAA???????

I don’t recall that the president of Coca-Cola has ever authorized “extraordinary rendition” or full body cavity searches of his competitors and then depositing them in a holding cell before they were eventually flown halfway around the world for God knows what kind of treatment.

And apparently, the fog spread elsewhere in the court…

Justice John Paul Stevens suggested that he was uneasy about lightly letting claims against high officials proceed, mentioning his majority opinion in Clinton v. Jones, the 1997 decision that allowed Paula Jones’s sexual harassment case against President Bill Clinton to go forward. A prediction in that decision about the burden the suit would place on the president — “it appears to us highly unlikely to occupy any substantial amount of petitioner’s time” — turned out to be incorrect.

Ugh…so Stevens thinks that siding with the appeals court would entail “occupy(ing) (a) substantial amount of (Ashcroft and Mueller’s) time,” and that is the issue at hand, as opposed what could possibly represent a violation of Javaid Iqbal’s rights?

Excuse me, but I hardly see the equivalency, particularly when you have stories such as this where the FBI has settled with a Muslim man accused in an attack in Spain to the tune of $2 million, and a German national sued the CIA for rendition and torture here (unpleasantly surprised that I have to point this out to someone like Stevens).

Actually, I think Ashcroft and Mueller could help move this case to some kind of settlement (as opposed to the cost of arguing before the high court) and thus save valuable tax dollars if they made a simple gesture (particularly given the fact that the defendant’s name is apparently a common one, hence this mixup).

How about an apology for starters?

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