updated 9/29/2005 9:47:42 AM ET 2005-09-29T13:47:42

A judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit against top federal officials brought by two men who claim they were beaten and starved in a roundup of Muslim men after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Egyptian immigrant Ehab Elmaghraby and Pakistani immigrant Javaid Iqbal filed the lawsuit last year against former Attorney General John Ashcroft and dozens of other officials.

They argued that the government violated their right to appeal their solitary confinement in a special unit of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

U.S. District Judge John Gleeson on Wednesday rejected a claim by Ashcroft that the lawsuit should be dismissed partly because the threat of foreign terrorism exempts the government from following rules made in peacetime.

The FBI was frantically trying to find al-Qaida cells in the United States in the months after the attacks, Justice Department lawyers wrote on Ashcroft’s behalf.

“Regulations written in peacetime cannot circumscribe the government’s discretion at a time of national emergency from foreign threats,” they wrote.

Harsh criticism
Gleeson singled out that argument for particularly harsh criticism Wednesday in a 70-page decision upholding most of the charges in the lawsuit.

“This proposition, which suggests that, as a matter of law, constitutional and statutory rights must be suspended during times of crisis, is supported neither by statute nor the Constitution,” he wrote.

Elmaghraby and Iqbal were deported to their home countries after serving time for charges unrelated to terrorism — Elmaghraby for a counterfeiting charge and Iqbal for fraud.

One of their attorneys, Haeyoung Yoon, said Wednesday that Gleeson’s ruling confirmed the validity of the charges in the lawsuit.

“We do allege in the complaint that people at the highest levels of government were involved,” she said.

A Justice Department spokesman, Charles Miller, said the government was still reviewing the decision and had not decided what action to take.

A 2003 Justice Department report found “significant problems” with the treatment of post-Sept. 11 detainees at the Metropolitan Detention Center, including physical abuse and mistreatment.

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