Dec. 19, 2003 – Newly released videotapes show appalling treatment of detainees in a New York detention facility after September 11, 2001. The videotapes, which federal prison officials had claimed were destroyed, show guards at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, NY physically and verbally abusing foreign nationals rounded up in the days following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
A US Department of Justice report details the contents of the more than 300 tapes. "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," reads the report. In one of the more gruesome incidents described, detainees were slammed against a wall draped in an American flag T-shirt that read "These Colors Donâ€™t Run."
The report also found that on more than 40 occasions, staff at the detention facility made audio recordings of the detaineesâ€™ visits with their attorneys in violation of federal regulations. The report is a supplement to an earlier investigation into the treatment of post-9/11 detainees and confirms many of the charges made by detainees and their lawyers.
"Itâ€™s clear that there was no provocation at any point, and clear that there was no justification for excessive force at any point," commented Barbara J. Olshansky to the Washington Post. Olshansky works for the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based civil liberties group suing the federal government on behalf of the detainees. "[The report] is astounding confirmation of what we've alleged all along."
The 84 detainees held at the Brooklyn detention center were only some of the more than 1200 foreign nationals who were detained by federal officials after September 11. None of the detainees, most of Arab or South Asian descent, was ever charged with crimes related to terrorism.
The Justice Department report states that many of the staff members described an "emotionally charged" atmosphere following the September 11 terrorist attacks, and says that the "vague label attached to the detainees by the FBI" initially led the staff "to believe that the detainees could be terrorists or that they may have played a role in the September 11 attacks."
Most staff denied mistreating detainees, making claims that were later proven false by the appearance of the videotapes. According to Mark Carallo, a Justice Department spokesperson, federal prosecutors are reviewing the report in order to determine if federal charges will be filed.