- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

The Justice Department’s inspector general yesterday sharply criticized the department for its treatment of illegal aliens detained as part of the FBI’s September 11 terrorist investigation.

The review found that many of the 762 detainees did not know why they were being held, were prevented from getting legal representation, and were denied bond.

The investigation called cell conditions “unduly harsh” and cited the fact that the rooms remained brightly lighted 24 hours a day. It also found a pattern of physical and verbal abuse against 19 detainees at a New York federal prison who were interviewed by the inspector general’s office.

The review also criticized the length of confinement and the lack of efforts to clear detainees of any connection to the attacks. Nearly all the detainees were found to be in violation of immigration laws.

“In conducting our review we were mindful of the circumstances confronting the department and the country as a result of the September 11 attacks, including the massive disruptions they caused,” said Glenn A. Fine, the inspector general.

“The department was faced with monumental challenges and department employees worked tirelessly and with enormous dedication over an extended period to meet these challenges,” Mr. Fine said.

After the attacks the FBI was directed to use “every available law enforcement tool” to arrest those who “participate in, or lend support to terrorist activities,” and within two months it had detained 1,200 citizens and aliens for questioning as part of PENTTBOM (Pentagon/Twin Towers Bombings investigation).

Although detainees were held at numerous facilities across the country, the investigation looked at conditions at the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Passaic County Jail in Paterson, N.J.

In New York, suspects were held under the most restrictive conditions allowed by law and prison officials were told to “not be in a hurry” to allow visits by lawyers, friends or family to give federal investigators time to “do their job.”

Detainees were kept in lockdown 23 hours a day, and for the first few weeks were kept in a communications blackout. Telephone calls and mail, both incoming and outgoing, were banned.

Cells were monitored by cameras and the movements of all September 11 detainees were recorded. When taken out of their cells, inmates were kept in handcuffs and in leg irons, and sometime in “martin chains” — four feet of heavy chain linking leg irons to handcuffs.

Detainees complained they were slammed against walls and handcuffed too tightly, and that their arms, hands, wrists and fingers were painfully twisted. Verbal abuse included taunts of “Bin Laden Junior” and threats that “you’re going to die here.” Guards banged on their doors for midnight counts and told them to “shut up” during prayers that conflicted with the 4 p.m. head counts.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the Civil Rights Division declined to prosecute any charges against guards, citing a lack of physical evidence.

The government was able to employ the tightest security restrictions possible because it classified the detainees as witnesses. However, that classification created “administrative confusion” and made it difficult for lawyers and family members to find out where detainees were being held.

“After the blackout period ended, the [Metropolitan Detention Center’s] designation of the September 11 detainees as ‘witness security’ inmates frustrated efforts by detainees’ attorneys, families and even law-enforcement officials to determine where the detainees were being held,” the report said.

“We found that [the centers] staff frequently — and mistakenly — told people who inquired about a specific September 11 detainee that the detainee was not held at the facility when, in fact, the opposite was true.”

The Justice Department instituted a policy requiring that all aliens with whom the FBI had an interest in connection with the investigation had to be cleared before being released.

Instead of requiring a few days for the task, the FBI clearance of each detainee took an average of 80 days and resulted in many detainees remaining in custody — “many in extremely restrictive conditions of confinement for weeks and months with no clearance investigation being conducted.”

The report criticized the FBI for not distinguishing between aliens who were subjects of the terrorism investigation and those encountered coincidentally.

Information edited out of the report included the demographic details of most of the detainees. The released information gave the detainees’ nationality breakdown. The prisoners were citizens of more than 20 nations, with the largest number, 254, coming from Pakistan, followed by 111 from Egypt. Nine were from Iran, six from Afghanistan, and 29 combined were from Israel, Britain and France. Most, if not all, are assumed to be Arabs.

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