Arab detainees in US abused

Yasser Ibrahim says his introduction to the United States’ federal prison system came from guards slamming his head into a wall while calling him “terrorist”.

    Muslim worshippers leave the
    Makki mosque in Brooklyn

    Muslims held on immigration charges in the US after the 11 September 2001 attacks routinely say they were abused while being held.

    Federal officials had regularly dismissed these complaints.

    But earlier this month the US Justice Department’s office of the Inspector General issued a report saying it found “significant problems” with the treatment of nearly 800 detainees nationwide, including abusive conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Centre (MDC) in Brooklyn where Ibrahim was held.

    The report cast a critical light on the little-known federal jail on the waterfront and breathed life into a pending civil rights legal case, filed by Ibrahim and six others against US Attorney General John Ashcroft.

    Charges have also been levelled against prison personnel, Federal Bureau of  Investigation (FBI) supervisors and other officials. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status.

    “Suffering true”

    “What we said about all the suffering was true,” said Ibrahim, 31, in a phone interview from his native Egypt. “The government was doing its best to deny it.”

    Ibrahim was held for eight months without being charged with a crime before being deported.

    Shakir Baloch was also held at the MDC for eight months without beeing charged until he was deported.

    “I’m owed an apology,” said Baloch, 41, a Pakistani-born doctor with Canadian citizenship.

    Muslims demonstrated after the
    11 September attacks

    Their lawyers have amended the legal case, filed last year, to incorporate the Inspector General’s findings.

    The case, which seeks unspecified damages, says federal officials violated their rights by imprisoning them on the basis of their race and religion.

    More than 800 men designated “of high interest” in the FBI investigation of the 11 September attacks were jailed at the facility in Brooklyn between 14 September 2001 and 27 August 2002. The nine-storey facility usually houses people charged with federal crimes, not immigration violations.

    Rights denied

    Inmates like Ibrahim and Baloch were classified as “suspected terrorists” and put in cell blocks normally reserved for dangerous inmates.

    The men say they were denied access to phones and lawyers for weeks at a time, locked in tiny cells where lights burned all night, kept awake by guards pounding on their doors and beaten at random.

    Ibrahim acknowledged his visa’s expiration but said he did nothing illegal. The abuse allegedly subsided once guards were ordered to videotape detainees outside their cells. Prison officials said the policy was designed simply to deter accusations of mistreatment.

    Ibrahim said one guard told him, “The camera is your best friend. If not for the camera, I would have smashed your face.”

    In interviews with the Inspector General’s investigators, most guards denied any wrong doing. But one said he witnessed guards slammed inmates against walls and “stated this was a common practice before the MDC began videotaping the detainees,” the report said.

    The guard said a supervisor told him “it was all part of being in jail and not to worry about it”.

    Justice Department officials refuse to discuss the civil suit.

    Government attorneys have asked a judge to dismiss the case, arguing Ashcroft and other defendants are protected by immunity laws.

    Ibrahim said he would not forget hearing a knock on his door on 30 September 2001 and being hauled away for reasons he said were still unclear to him.

    “This is not supposed to happen in America,” he said.


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