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Appeals court asked to restore key leaders to 9/11 suit

A federal appeals court in Manhattan heard arguments Thursday on whether to reinstate a suit against top U.S. officials over one of Sept. 11's most controversial legacies -- the harsh detention of scores of Arabs and Muslims rounded up over immigration violations.

The lawsuit alleges that former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former FBI Director Robert Mueller paved the way for months of jail abuses by ordering "maximum pressure" to get those people detained to cooperate "by any means possible." The plaintiffs had no tie to Sept. 11.

A Justice Department report in 2003 said there was a pattern of "verbal and physical abuse." A federal judge in Brooklyn last year allowed the suit to go forward against the wardens who oversaw the jails, but dismissed the claims against Ashcroft and Mueller.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs urged a three-judge panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- Judges Reena Raggi, Richard Wesley and Rosemary Pooler -- to put Ashcroft and Mueller back into the case because they set the abuses in motion.

Government lawyers contend that higher ups in Washington can't be held liable for abusive implementation of their orders by jail officials. The judges gave no timetable for a ruling.

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