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The defendants before the U.S. Supreme Court sound like a political “Where are they now?” quiz: former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and former Commissioner James W. Ziglar of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

They are involved in a civil suit, the last arguments of which were heard by the high court before Donald Trump’s inauguration. At issue is whether the plaintiffs — 760 foreign men, mostly Muslim — have standing to sue the former government officials for denying them the constitutional rights of due process and equal protection.

The case takes new significance now, as Trump has notoriously promised to institute policies with respect to Muslims that are of questionable constitutional legitimacy.

The plaintiffs in the case were rounded up in 2001 in the days and weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks. They were thrown into two detention centers and held for about eight months. The immigrant men say they were targeted because they were Muslim, dark-skinned and Arab or South Asian. They were kept in solitary confinement and put through sleep and food deprivation. A government investigation later found that some were slammed up against walls, strip-searched unnecessarily and yelled at with slurs for praying.

None of these men — not one — was ever charged with terrorism. Instead, most eventually faced deportation for immigration violations such as having overstayed visas or worked without a green card. These are civil crimes, but hardly the stuff of high national-security drama.

It’s worth remembering the shock and fear that followed those terror attacks on U.S. soil. The nation is forever changed for the lives lost that day.

Yet this embarrassing episode — an example of hysteria that led to a clear miscarriage of justice — is as pertinent as ever. We have every reason to believe that our new commander-in-chief and his intelligence and law-enforcement appointees are liable to repeat this behavior.

We just inaugurated as president a man who dogmatically clung to the lie that Muslims in New Jersey were dancing in the streets after terrorists flew planes into the twin towers and the Pentagon. Trump is not known to back down from his lies and calumnies, yet many of his Cabinet nominees and advisers have tried to distance the administration from talk of creating a database for Muslims, monitoring mosques and banning practicing Muslims from immigrating.

On the other hand, Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, waffled in Senate confirmation hearings when asked about a Muslim registry, saying he needed more information. (Here’s some free advice: Check the Constitution.)

The Supreme Court case, brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, turns on the question of whether top officials in the George W. Bush administration bear any personal responsibility, or if they have qualified immunity, for violations of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

An inspector general’s report on the detentions mentioned that some in the administration tried to push back against overreach, but the rational voices were silenced. Hooligans took over. Guards at one detention center were fond of twisting hands, wrists and fingers and dragging the men around when they were handcuffed and in leg shackles. Withholding soap and toilet paper was another game.

Family members had trouble finding out information, left to guess how or why their loved ones had disappeared. Many of the men had been caught in the sights of the government thanks to anonymous tips. Gadflies called authorities, believing that their Muslim neighbors were highly suspicious, perhaps because they worked odd hours. In one case, a man landed in a detention center because someone thought he had made “anti-American statements.”

That’s what happens when fear leads. When those in power bend to it. It’s one thing for a private citizen to answer the call of “If you see something, say something” and mistakenly flag an innocent person. It’s quite another when officials working for the government brush off their duty to respect constitutional rights, holding people for months, even after they knew those people were innocent.

Certainly, anyone with memory of those horrifying days following the attacks that killed 3,000 people can understand how mistakes were made. Some reasons for delay in releasing the men were a lack of resources and muddled communications between the FBI and other agencies.

Erring on the side of recklessness comes at a high price. It undermines the constitutional rights America values most. It harms our international image. It hands a recruitment tool to terrorists.

We know this now. Time to apply the lesson.

Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752, msanchez@kcstar.com, @msanchezcolumn

IMAGE: WikiCommons/Gage Skidmore

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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