For Immediate Release
Five New York Men Detained and Abused in Post-9/11 Immigration Sweeps Settle Case for $1.26 Million
NEW YORK - Today, 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 challenging 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, NY after the 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.”
CCR’s class action, 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 rounded up on the basis of racial and religious profiling and
subjected to unlawful detention and abuse.
Among other documented abuses, many of the men had their faces smashed
into a wall where 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.
All of the men were eventually deported, though several of the
plaintiffs returned to New York under strict conditions to participate
in depositions for their case against the government in early 2006.
“As with the Japanese internment, history will not look kindly upon the Ashcroft raids,” said CCR Attorney Rachel Meeropol.
“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.”
Michael Winger, co-counsel at Covington & Burling, LLP,
said: “We applaud our clients for being willing to fight seven long
years to gain some compensation for the injustice of their treatment.
We hope the government will take the hint, and not repeat this outrage."
The suit named as defendants 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 held.
The plaintiffs who settled are Yasser Ebrahim and Hany Ibrahim, brothers, and Ashraf Ibrahim, no relation, all currently living in Egypt; Asif-Ur-Rehman Saffi, a native of Pakistan currently residing in France, where he is a citizen, with his wife and three children; and Shakir Baloch, a former physician from Pakistan residing with his wife and 15-year-old daughter in Toronto.
To continue the fight to hold these officials accountable, CCR
attorneys have asked 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 years of litigating Turkmen. 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
The new plaintiffs include two Pakistani men, Ahmer Iqbal Abbasi and Anser Mehmood; two men from Egypt, Ahmed Khalifa and Saeed Hammouda; and Benamar 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, the INS kept them in detention for up to
eight months, long past the resolution of their immigration cases. CCR
attorneys say 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.
Indeed, 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.
Some of the abuse 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.
For more information on Turkmen v. Ashcroft, click here.
The Center for Constitutional Rights represents other victims of the
Bush administration’s unlawful practices, from Canadian rendition
victim Maher Arar, to Iraqis tortured and abused at Abu Ghraib prison,
to both current and former Guantanamo detainees. For more information
on CCR’s work on illegal detention, torture and abuse at Guantánamo
Bay, visit our website at www.ccrjustice.org.
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The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.