Abuse of Rights for Detainees Reported
By RICHARD A. SERRANO, Times Staff Writer
Inside the nation's jails, some of the 700 people detained as part of the investigation into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have endured beatings, have been denied access to lawyers and otherwise deprived of their rights, according to defense attorneys, civil rights organizations and some government officials.
In Mississippi, a 20-year-old student from Pakistan said he was stripped and beaten in his cell by inmates who were angry about the attacks, while jail guards failed to intervene or give him proper medical care. The FBI is investigating the allegation.
In New York, prosecutors are investigating an Egyptian detainee's courtroom allegations of abuse by a guard, and the Israeli consulate is concerned about five Jewish Israelis who say they were blindfolded, handcuffed in their cells and forced to take polygraph tests.
In Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, U.S. immigration officials cut off all lawyer visits and phone calls for detainees for a full week after the attacks, a directive that officials now say was mishandled.
Officials at the 26 county jails that house INS detainees in those states misinterpreted and misapplied special instructions for the handling of inmates connected to the federal terrorism investigation, said Marilu Cabrera, a spokeswoman for the INS district office in Chicago.
And in Texas, a man from Saudi Arabia initially was denied an attorney and was deprived of a mattress, a blanket, a drinking cup and a clock to let him know when to recite his Muslim prayers, his lawyer said.
It appears unlikely that any of the detainees in these cases played a role in the attacks on the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. According to their attorneys, none of them are being held as a material witness; two have been released. Officials have said that, of the 700, only a few have links to the terrorism investigation. The vast majority were swept up on immigration violations or state and local charges.
In any other time, they would have been released on bond by now. But the government still is sorting through its evidence in the hunt for collaborators in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The allegations raise questions about what is happening to the hundreds of people caught up in the federal dragnet for suspected terrorists.
Judges are denying bond, closing hearings and sealing documents. Prosecutors are refusing to divulge what is occurring behind closed doors in jails and courtrooms. Even defense attorneys often do not know what is happening to their clients, or they refuse to discuss them.
Because of the extraordinary level of secrecy surrounding the investigation, it is impossible to determine how many individuals may have been mistreated. Federal authorities refuse to disclose even the number of people in custody.
In an attempt to find out who is being detained and how they are being treated, The Times contacted more than 20 defense lawyers and civil rights monitors. In every case, the lawyers complained that their clients were being held too long and, almost always, said their clients had suffered some kind of mistreatment or undue hardship.
Civil liberties groups are growing increasingly concerned, and also worry about even more enhanced law enforcement authority in a new anti-terrorism bill approved by Congress last week.
Jeanne Butterfield, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Assn., said Washington appears to be "overreaching" its authority.
Hussein Sadruddin, head of a Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in Dallas, said that detainees are being targeted because they are Middle Easterners. "People are going after these detainees because it feels like they are doing something for their country," he said.
Federal officials say some of the allegations of abuse are being investigated, and in some cases acknowledge that mistakes were made. However, top authorities in Washington declined to discuss specific cases except to say that they do not believe there is any widespread violation of detainees' civil rights.
Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller insist there has been no disregard for the rights of detainees.
"This Justice Department will never waver in our defense of the Constitution nor relent in our defense of civil rights," Ashcroft told the House Judiciary Committee last month. "The American spirit that rose from the rubble in New York knows no prejudice and defies division by race, ethnicity or religion."
Mueller, at a subsequent news conference, said detained individuals fall into one of three categories: they may have some involvement in or information about the attacks; they may have violated immigration laws; or they are wanted on state or local warrants.
"We do not detain persons [just for] questioning," he said.
But attorneys for the detainees sometimes cannot get their own questions answered.
Dennis Clare, a lawyer in Louisville, Ky., said 40 immigrants from the West African nation of Mauritania were picked up near Cincinnati on immigration violations two weeks after Sept. 11. They had moved to the area after coming to the U.S. to escape police brutality in their homeland.
Authorities were interested in the group because one of them supposedly was a pilot. Thirty-seven of the men were subsequently released, and while Clare represents the remaining three, he has yet to meet with them.
The men have been moved several times to jails in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Louisiana.
"They don't speak English," Clare said. "They are begging to get out of jail."
Hasnain Javed, a Pakistani who came to the U.S. to study, was picked up Sept. 19 at the bus station in Mobile, Ala., on his way back to New York from Houston.
Javed, 20, admitted in an interview that he had overstayed his visa by more than two years. He was taken to the county jail in Wiggins, Miss., which houses INS detainees under a federal contract.
Javed was placed in a large jail dormitory, where he said other inmates told him they did not want him in there. They told him they were going to tell the guards that he had shouted anti-American slogans.
"They slammed me in the face and chipped off my tooth," he said. "I started crying."
He said he used an intercom to try to tell guards he was being attacked.
"I told the lady: 'Please try to get me out of here. They're beating me up. They're going to kill me.'
"But I didn't get any response, I was beaten even more. They were punching me and kicking me.
"My left ear, I can't even hear completely now. . . . They started calling me names. Names like terrorist or something like that. And I told them, 'Why, why, why? I had nothing to do with this.' "
Sheriff Blames Inmate for His Mistreatment
That night, he said, he was pulled from his bunk, stripped naked, pinned to the ground and beaten again. "I was crying and shouting, and the officers still did not show up."
He said guards eventually took him to a first aid station, where he was given an ice pack and two aspirins.
He was later transferred to a jail in New Orleans, and was released after spending three days in custody. "I did not do anything and I don't think anyone had a right to treat me the way I was treated."
The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Mississippi are investigating the matter as a potential hate crime. But Stone County Sheriff Mike Ballard, who runs the Wiggins jail, insisted that "we did everything we could do" to help Javed.
The sheriff added that Javed brought the assault upon himself. "He was making derogatory comments about the United States," the sheriff said. "That's what our investigation showed."
In Brooklyn, N.Y., Mohammed Maddy--a former ticket-taker at John F. Kennedy International Airport--was picked up Oct. 3. He was charged with sneaking his wife and children past security there Sept. 10--the day before the terrorist strikes.
At a federal detention hearing, his attorney, Justine Harris, complained that Maddy was injured by guards at the city's Metropolitan Detention Center.
"The defendant showed me a very large bruise which he has on the upper part of his arm, which he claims was a result of mistreatment by the guards," Harris told the judge, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Magistrate Steven M. Gold ordered photographs taken of Maddy, and Asst. U.S. Atty. Gregory Andres said in an interview that "it's something obviously we are going to investigate."
With Maddy still in jail, Andres declined to say whether officials were investigating him in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. He noted, however, that the 44-year-old native of Egypt allegedly had threatened to kill his wife if she did not bring their children here.
Also in New York, five young Israelis were detained Sept. 11 after they were seen taking photographs of the World Trade Center rubble shortly after the airplane attacks.
"They behaved in a way that seemed suspicious to a neighbor, who called the FBI," said Ido Aharoni, a spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York. The men, including one who was mistaken for an Arab, are being detained on immigration violations.
According to diplomats at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the consulate in New York, the detainees said they were blindfolded when they were questioned, handcuffed in their cells and ordered to take polygraph tests.
Aharoni said the Israeli government is deeply concerned about their treatment. "We haven't been able to get clear answers from the authorities on what is going on," he said.
There have been numerous allegations of people kept from meeting with their attorneys.
According to the law, defendants charged with a crime are entitled to an appointed attorney if they cannot afford to hire their own. In immigration court, detainees are told that they may hire a lawyer, but that one is not automatically assigned to them.
Dallas attorney Paul Zoltan is representing a Saudi Arabian man being held in Denton, Texas. The lawyer declined to identify his client, except to say that he is in his 20s, works as a sales representative, and faces only minor immigration charges.
"He was kept in leg irons when meeting with his family," Zoltan said. "They didn't give him a drinking cup. They didn't give him a mattress. They didn't give him a blanket. He had to ask what time of day it was so he could pray toward Mecca, and they wouldn't tell him. He's very frightened."
Anne Estrada, INS district director in Texas, acknowledged that there have been problems with how some detainees are being held at local jails.
"Sometimes there are some misunderstandings and miscommunications about what our standards are, and sometimes we have to reach out to the county jails so they understand."
For others, the hardships caused by being held for so long are more personal.
Abdulsalam Achou, a Syrian bread salesman living in Jersey City, N.J., has been detained since Sept. 15 for staying in this country 19 days past his visa permit, a minor infraction, said his lawyer, Lamiaa Elfar.
"His wife is close to nine months pregnant and she has a 1-year-old daughter who was born here," Elfar said. "She has nobody here except him. She doesn't even know how she's going to get to a hospital. She has no one to take her."
October 15, 2001
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times