Post 9/11 Immigrant Raids’ Case Gains Partial Victory

By Kenneth J. Theisen

The U.S. government had a set back regarding its various illegal actions in the war of terror it has conducted since 9/11. On November 3, 2009, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) announced that five men who had been living in New York and were ultimately deported won a $1.26 million settlement from the United States government in a case which challenged post-9/11 racial profiling, illegal detention, and abuse of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men.

Yasser Ebrahim, one of the men held at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York after the massive post-9/11 sweeps and now living in Egypt, said: “We were deprived of our rights and abused simply because of our religion and the color of our skin. After seven long years, I am relieved to be able to try to rebuild my life. I know that I and others are still affected by what happened and that communities in the U.S. continue to feel the fallout. I sincerely hope this will never happen again.” But such illegal government actions could easily occur again unless those responsible for them are held accountable.

The class action case, Turkmen v. Ashcroft, was filed in September 2002 to challenge the arbitrary detention and mistreatment of immigration detainees by prison guards and high level Bush administration officials in the wake of 9/11. With no evidence of any connection to terrorism, hundreds of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men were targeted and rounded up on the basis of racial and religious profiling and subjected to unlawful detention and abuse. In the opening salvos of the U.S. war of terror, the U.S. government conducted raids throughout the country and terrorized Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities.

Among other documented abuses of U.S. government terrorism, many of the men had their faces smashed into a wall where “patriotic” guards had pinned a t-shirt with a picture of an American flag and the words, “These colors don’t run.”  The men were pushed against the t-shirt upon their entrance to MDC and told “welcome to America.”  The t-shirt was smeared with blood, yet it stayed up on the wall at MDC for months.   

Despite the outrageous actions of the government, all of the men were eventually deported. A number of the plaintiffs returned to New York under strict conditions to participate in depositions for their case against the government in early 2006. They then were forced to leave the country again.

CCR Attorney Rachel Meeropol stated, “As with the Japanese internment, history will not look kindly upon the Ashcroft raids. This is just the first step, though. To ensure that this never happens again, the former Attorney General and his cronies–the architects of this policy–must also be held accountable.”  But do not expect the Obama administration to hold the former Bush regime officials accountable. To date there has not been an investigation regarding these top officials’ actions in regard to the illegal roundups, detentions, and deportations that are the subject of the case by the Obama DOJ or any other U.S. government agency.

Some of the high-level defendants in the case were then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, former INS Commissioner James Ziglar and officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where the plaintiffs were incarcerated. These top-level U.S. officials have not faced justice, nor will they if we wait for the Obama administration to act on its own.

The plaintiffs who settled are Yasser Ebrahim, Hany Ibrahim,and Ashraf Ibrahim, all currently living in Egypt; Asif-Ur-Rehman Saffi, a native of Pakistan currently residing in France, and Shakir Baloch,a former physician from Pakistan residing in Toronto.

Despite the settlement, the defendants are not off the hook in this case. To continue the struggle to hold these top-level officials accountable, CCR attorneys have requested the judge in the case to allow them to file a new complaint on behalf of five new MDC plaintiffs.  The new version of the case would also be a class action, and would include a substantial number of detailed allegations tying Ashcroft, Mueller, and Ziglar to the illegal round-ups and abuse based on information CCR has gathered through the years of litigation in the Turkmen case. CCR attorneys asked that the remaining two original named plaintiffs in the case who were held at Passaic County Jail rather than the MDC have their claims remanded with the new plaintiffs’ to the District Court. They are Ibrahim Turkmen and Akhil Sachdeva.

The new plaintiffs include two Pakistani men, Ahmer Iqbal Abbasiand Anser Mehmood; two men from Egypt, Ahmed Khalifa andSaeed Hammouda; andBenamar Benatta, an Algerian who has sought and received refugee status in Canada. Despite the fact that the government never charged any of them with a terrorism-related offense, immigration authorities kept them in detention for up to eight months, long past the resolution of their immigration cases. CCR attorneys allege that the government deliberately avoided the requirements of the Fourth Amendment and tried to avoid judicial oversight by placing the men in immigration rather than criminal detention when the sole purpose of the round-ups was to investigate so-called terrorist threats and should have proceeded under criminal law.  

In fact Mr. Benatta succeeded in having a criminal charge for possession of false immigration documents thrown out of court when the federal judge in his case ruled that his immigration detention was a “subterfuge” and “sham” created to hide the reality that, because Benatta was an “Algerian citizen and a member of the Algerian Air Force, [he] was spirited off to the MDC Brooklyn…and held in the [Administrative Maximum Special Housing Unit] as ‘high security’ for the purposes of providing an expeditious means of having [him] interrogated by special agents of the FBI.”

The suit further charges that some of these detainees were improperly assigned to the Administrative Maximum Special Housing Unit (ADMAX SHU); kept in solitary confinement with the lights on 24 hours a day; placed under a communications blackout so that they could not seek the assistance of their attorneys, families and friends; subjected to physical and verbal abuse; forced to endure inhumane conditions of confinement; and obstructed in their efforts to practice their religion. One of the new plaintiffs, Saeed Hammouda, was forced to endure eight months of this abuse before he was cleared of any connection to terrorism and deported despite his innocence. If all this sounds similar to abuses in other U.S. hellholes like Gitmo, it should, as the same system of “American Justice” is responsible for the horror.

Some of the abuse documented in the Turkmen case included beatings, repeated strip searches, and sleep deprivation. The allegations of inhumane and degrading treatment have been substantiated by two reports of the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, and several defendants in the case have recently been convicted on federal charges of beatings and cover-ups of other prisoners around the same time period.
 
While it is important that guards and others who committed beatings and other abuses face justice; real justice also demands that those at the top of the U.S. government who set policies, gave orders, and otherwise set in motion these abuses, also be held accountable.
 
World Can’t Wait will continue to monitor and report on developments in this case.
 
For more information on Turkmen v. Ashcroft see
 
 

 

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