WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department on Tuesday settled a decades-old lawsuit brought by a group of men who were detained by the government in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and held in a federal prison in New York. under conditions that the department’s control body itself described as abusive and harsh.
The settlement announced Tuesday calls for a payment of $98,000 between the six men who filed the lawsuit and were held without terrorism charges at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.
The men, Ahmer Iqbal Abbasi, Anser Mehmood, Benamar Benatta, Ahmed Khalifa, Saeed Hammouda and Purna Raj Bajracharya, said they were held in restrictive conditions and in some cases abused by staff members.
The settlement is somewhat unusual because federal courts at nearly every level, including the Supreme Court, had thrown out much of the lawsuit. A federal district court judge dismissed the remaining part of the lawsuit last year. Although the plaintiffs filed an appeal, there was little action in the case for months.
Although the Justice Department does not admit guilt as part of the settlement agreement, Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal wrote a letter to each of the men saying that the Justice Department had determined they were “held in unsafe conditions.” restrictive and unduly harsh confinement conditions and a number of individuals were physically and verbally abused by certain MDC officers.”
The letter went on to say that “Under the exceptional circumstances of this unique case and before the facts have been fully litigated or there has been a final judgment by the court in this case, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has agreed to provide funds to former MDC Governor Dennis Hasty to compensate him for the settlement of his claims. This will resolve all of his claims in this litigation.”
“I don’t know if the director of the Bureau of Prisons has ever signed a letter of this nature for individual clients before, so it’s unique,” said Rachel Meeropol, a senior attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents the men.
Meeropol called the court battle a failure of the justice system and pointed to the limitations of claims against federal officials.
“Based on court actions, there is no way for people who have been injured to get justice,” Meeropol said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Instead, we’re seeing this pretty amazing work with defendants finding a way to hold themselves accountable when the court said no. I think it’s a unique acknowledgment of this situation and the way that what happened were procedural obstacles to true justice.”
The Justice Department had no immediate comment.
The suit originally sought accountability from high-level members of the George W. Bush administration, and in 2008 a settlement was reached with the original five plaintiffs. Others added.
In 2017, the Supreme Court dismissed parts of the lawsuit, but sent one lawsuit, against the former federal prison director, back to a lower court. A federal judge in Brooklyn dismissed the remaining parts of the lawsuit last year, finding the men had no right to sue for their injuries, though the judge did not address whether there were constitutional violations.
The agreement closes a chapter on a troubling era in federal criminal justice when Muslim, Arab and South Asian men were rounded up in the days and weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Soon, more than 1,000 were arrested in raids in the New York metropolitan area and across the country. Most were only accused of overstaying their visas and deported back to their home countries. But before that happened, many were detained for months, with little contact with the outside world, especially with their families.
According to the 9/11 Commission report, they were arrested as “special interest” detainees. Immigration hearings were closed, detainee communication was limited, and bail was denied until detainees were cleared of terrorist connections. Identities were kept secret.
A review by the Justice Department’s inspector general said the Justice Department’s “hold until cleared” policy meant a significant percentage of detainees were held for months despite immigration officials questioning the legality of holding them. prolonged detentions and although there were no indications that they were connected with terrorism. To compound that, they faced “a pattern of physical and verbal abuse,” particularly in the federal jail in Brooklyn. Conditions were, according to the report, “unduly harsh.”
“I am glad that the case is coming to an end after two decades of litigation. However, it is a bittersweet conclusion for me,” said Benatta, in a statement released by the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, along with Covington & Burling LLP, and attorneys Michael Winger and Alexander Reinert.
“I don’t think justice is served properly, considering the detrimental consequences the defendants’ actions have had on my life,” he said. “I can’t help but be disappointed in the entire court system: the federal courts had the opportunity to remedy the situation, but they chose not to intervene, and by doing so, they left the door open for future mistreatment and abuse. without ramifications.”
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