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Archive for Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Appeal on 9-11 detentions rejected

January 13, 2004

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— The Supreme Court said Monday it would not second-guess the government's holding in secret hundreds of foreigners after the Sept. 11 attacks.

None of the more than 700 illegal immigrants was charged as a terrorist, and the Justice Department's inspector general concluded last year that the government had trampled on a law stipulating such detentions be limited to 90 days.

The high court turned down a request to review the secrecy surrounding the detainees, nearly all Arabs or Muslims, who were picked up in the United States after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Most were eventually deported for immigration violations. The government refused to disclose whom it held and why.

The court's action, taken without comment, was a victory for the Bush administration. Civil liberties and media organizations had sought access to the names and other basic information about the detainees.

A federal appeals court had sided with the administration and its argument that knowing the names or details of the arrests would give terrorists a window on the post-Sept. 11 terror investigation. By refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court allowed that ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to stand.

"Until some other court says otherwise, the government can continue the policy of secret arrests that seems fundamentally inconsistent with basic American values, and that we know in this case led to a series of abuses," said Steven Shapiro, national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which had urged the court to hear the case.

The audit by the Justice Department's inspector general found significant problems with the detentions, including allegations of physical abuse by jail guards at a facility in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In other action Monday, the court:

  • Scheduled arguments for March 24 in a case that asks whether it's unconstitutional for children in public schools to pledge their allegiance to one nation under God.
  • Called for the Bush administration's views on a case that asks if disabled moviegoers must be given better seats than the front-row accommodations they're provided in many new stadium-seating theaters.
  • Rejected an appeal from St. Louis University, which argued that a maker of polio vaccine should help compensate the family of a baby who was paralyzed after receiving vaccine.
  • Heard arguments in cases from Missouri that ask whether states can block local governments from offering local phone and Internet service.
  • Left undisturbed a ruling that upheld a ban on so-called junk faxes.

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