June 15, 2006 – A federal judge yesterday issued a mixed ruling in a case brought against administration officials and law-enforcement officers by several men detained and allegedly abused after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
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Eight former immigrants had filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of
foreign nationals who are or were perceived by the government to be Arab or Middle Eastern, and who endured lengthy detentions in New York and New Jersey in 2001 and 2002. The government rounded the men up in the days following 9/11 and held many of them for months on minor visa violations.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, a progressive human-rights law firm, is helping the men sue various high level officials and individual jail personnel for holding them in allegedly abusive conditions. The lawsuit alleges that the former prisoners were unfairly singled out for detention based on their religion and countries of origin, and that the government carried out an unconstitutional policy of holding them captive longer than necessary without charging them with criminal offenses.
The policy, which was largely designed by now-Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff and authorized by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, mandated that some post-9/11 detainees picked up for overstaying their visas be held without bond or deportation for investigation into possible terrorist ties.
The detainment policy was largely designed by Michael Chertoff and authorized by John Ashcroft.
As previously reported by The NewStandard, the Department of Justiceâ€™s Inspector Generalâ€™s Office released a December 2003 report based on detainee allegations, interviews with prison staff and a review of videotapes.
The reportâ€™s account of the videotape evidence told of various forms of brutal punishment. "Some officers slammed and bounced detainees against the wall, twisted their arms and hands in painful ways, stepped on their leg-restraint chains and punished them by keeping them restrained for long periods of time," the report says. It also describes guards slamming detainees against a wall draped in an American flag T-shirt reading, "These Colors Donâ€™t Run."
While allowing the plaintiffs to move forward with claims of abuse, theft, interference with religious practices and denial of access to counsel, US District Judge John Gleeson dismissed allegations that officials had violated captivesâ€™ rights by orchestrating a policy of prolonged detention and racial profiling.
Gleeson ruled that the executive branch has the authority to hold visa violators for prolonged periods of time, even if the rationale behind the extended detention goes beyond immigration charges. He also wrote that "there isâ€¦ nothing outrageous about the plaintiffsâ€™ claim of national-origin discriminationâ€¦; the executive is free to single out â€˜nationals of a particular countryâ€™ and â€˜focusâ€™ enforcement efforts on them."
Gleeson went on to say that the same conduct would be "highly suspicious" if applied to citizens, "yet the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the political branches, â€˜[i]n the exercise of [their] broad power over naturalization and immigration... regularly make rules that would be unacceptable if applied to citizens.â€™"
In response to the ruling, plaintiff Yasser Ebrahim said in a press statement: "I am very disappointed and shocked. I can't believe the court would allow this to happen. I am frightened for other Muslims in the United States, who could face the same discrimination and abuse that I suffered."
The Center for Constitutional Rights says it plans to appeal the ruling. As it stands, the case will move forward on specific allegations of mistreatment.