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by William Fisher

America's Top-Secret Prisoners

(IPS) NEW YORK -- Four Muslim men who were detained without charge for months in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, eventually cleared of any connection to terrorism, and then deported to Egypt, have been allowed to return to the U.S. to pursue their class action civil lawsuit against the U.S. government.

They are charging unlawful imprisonment and abuse on behalf of 1,200 other Muslim and South Asian men rounded up and jailed following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Yasser Ebrahim, the first of the men allowed to return from Egypt under strict conditions, gave his deposition in New York Monday.

The men, who charge they suffered inhumane and degrading treatment in a Brooklyn detention center, are being allowed to participate in the case under strict conditions, including confinement to their hotel rooms and a ban on their speaking to anybody outside the case for the duration of their stay.

The three other plaintiffs are expected to arrive in the U.S. over the next two weeks. Four other deportees are parties to the suit but are not expected to return to the U.S. for depositions.

The plaintiffs charge that they were placed in solitary confinement, and suffered severe beatings, incessant verbal abuse and a total blackout on communications with their families and attorneys.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a civil rights advocacy group handling the case, said the conditions for their return to the U.S. are highly unusual in a civil case and a sign of what it called government "paranoia over Muslim and Middle Eastern men."

The case names former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller, immigration officials and prison officers among the defendants. The suit, originally filed in 2002, seeks compensation and punitive damages.

CCR legal director Bill Goodman told IPS, "Shortly after 9/11, the Department of Justice detained approximately 2,000 Muslim men, primarily from the Middle East and South Asia. Not one of these men was ever found to have been guilty of any form of terrorism, or even linked to terrorism."

"These men were held for many months longer than necessary, in solitary confinement, often physically abused and under degrading conditions. The government fought tooth and nail against any judicial oversight of what was going on."

"This was the beginning of what has been shown to be the U.S. policy of indefinite detention without due process, often involving torture," he said. "This lawsuit seeks to challenge and to rectify the illegal actions of the government."

The plaintiffs' claims will be bolstered by a 2003 report by Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General (IG), which found that some prison officers slammed 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 IG's report also cited videotapes showing that some detention center staff "misused strip searches and restraints to punish detainees and that officers improperly and illegally recorded detainees' meetings with their attorneys."

The Federal Bureau of Prisons said it had fired two people, demoted two more, and six had been suspended for periods from two days to 30 days.

"It means a lot to our clients that finally someone is being held accountable for the brutality they experienced," said CCR attorney Matthew Strugar.

"But we believe the responsibility for these abuses goes further up the chain of command at the Bureau of Prisons and we are disappointed more individuals have not yet been held accountable."

A spokesman for the Department of Justice declined to comment on the case.

The New York Times, which interviewed Yasser Ebrahim and his brother Hany in Egypt last week, reported that the two had lived in New York for several years before Sept. 11. Yasser ran a web design business and Hany worked in a delicatessen.

The two were arrested on Sept. 30, 2001 and held for around eight months, even after an FBI memo dated Dec. 7 stated they were cleared of links to terrorist groups, the lawsuit claims.

"I'm seeking justice," Yasser Ebrahim told The New York Times. "It's from the same system that did U.S. injustice before. But I have faith in this system. I know what happened before was a mistake."

The case is likely to draw more media attention than most civil lawsuits because it comes at a time when the Bush administration is being accused of ignoring constitutional rights and laws passed by Congress. The White House has admitted that the National Security Agency has been secretly intercepting international telephone calls and emails originating in the U.S.

Last week, the CCR and the American Civil Liberties Union filed lawsuits asserting that Pres. Bush's authorization of the wiretaps of U.S. citizens without court warrants was illegal.

They say it violates the provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed by Congress in 1978. FISA established a permanent court that alone has the authority to issue warrants for surveillance of U.S. persons. The law defines U.S. persons as those in the U.S., whether citizens or not.

The Bush administration contends it has "inherent" constitutional authority to protect the people in time of war, as well as implicit authority in the resolution passed by Congress following the Sept. 11 attacks that authorized the president to take military action to win the "Global War on Terror."

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to convene a hearing on the wiretap issue early next month, when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will testify.

Meanwhile, the Times of London reported that despite force feeding by the U.S. military, several hunger strikers at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba may be close to death, according to lawyers acting for the detainees.

The newspaper said the condition of two emaciated Yemeni hunger strikers who have been refusing solid food since last August is causing particular concern. There are also fears for the life of a hospitalized Saudi prisoner.

The Times said a spokesman for Joint Task Force Guantanamo declined to give the number of detainees in the hospital and said the hunger strikers were "malnourished" but "clinically stable." He denied their lives were at imminent risk.

At the height of the hunger strike, it was widely reported that some 150-200 detainees out of a total population of 540 were involved.

A U.S. law firm, Paul Weiss, which represents three Saudi detainees, has reportedly received increasingly alarming weekly medical reports about the condition of one of them, who is in the camp hospital.

On a trip to Guantanamo last month, Paul Weiss's lawyers were prevented from visiting the hospital and told their clients did not wish to see them. "We are concerned they may be in a life-threatening condition," said one of the lawyers, Jana Ramsay. "They are normally glad to see us."

The prisoners being force-fed have a permanent tube in the nose, which descends to the stomach and is attached to another tube for feeding. If they do not rip it out, the U.S. military says they are consenting to be fed even if the tube was inserted under duress.

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Albion Monitor   January 26, 2006   (

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