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U.S.: Justice Department Report Confirms 9-11 Detainee Abuses

Government Report Faults Justice, FBI, Immigration and Prison Officials

The Bush Administration should take immediate action to remedy the human rights violations documented by the Department of Justice’s internal investigation of its treatment of non-citizens detained after September 11, Human Rights Watch said today. The hard-hitting 198-page report released today by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), an internal agency watchdog, confirms abuses reported by Human Rights Watch, including prolonged detention without charge, denial of access to legal counsel, and excessively harsh conditions of confinement.

“The report is a superb exposé of how the Justice Department circumvented people’s basic rights after September 11,” said Wendy Patten, U.S. advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Now the ball is in the Attorney General’s court. He cannot ignore the damning findings and the detailed recommendations for ensuring these abuses are not repeated.”

In the wake of the September 11th attacks, the Justice Department detained over 1,200 non-citizens, primarily from Middle Eastern, South Asian, and North African countries. The government used immigration charges as a pretext to detain 766 non-citizens while it investigated possible links to terrorism. At most, no more than a handful of these “special interest” detainees have been charged with a terrorism-related crime. The Justice Department has refused to release the identities of these detainees and has conducted the majority of their immigration hearings in secret.

Last year, Human Rights Watch reported extensively on the failure of the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to respect the basic human rights of the detainees. (See, “Presumption of Guilt: Human Rights Abuses of Post-September 11 Detainees.”) Today’s OIG report, “The September 11 Detainees: A Review of the Treatment of Aliens Held on Immigration Charges in Connection with the Investigation of the September 11 Attacks,” details many of the same failures and provides new insights into the internal workings of the Justice Department and how it circumvented key constitutional safeguards. OIG findings include:

  • Detention without prompt notice of charges: Failure to promptly serve immigration charges on detainees and on the court resulted in delays in individuals’ understanding why they were being held, in obtaining legal representation, and in requesting bond hearings.
  • Use of immigration detention to investigate criminal activity: The report sheds light on the Justice Department’s policy to keep these non-citizens in detention until the FBI cleared them of possible links to terrorism. The “clearance” process operated to keep detainees in custody even after their immigration cases had been resolved and they had been ordered deported to their home countries. The report also found that the FBI and INS did not distinguish promptly enough between aliens who were subject of anti-terrorism investigations and those encountered and detained by happenstance.
  • Blanket denial of bail: The OIG report criticizes the Justice Department's efforts to oppose bail for all September 11 immigration detainees through its use of a “no bond” policy that overrode judicial orders to release detainees on bond while their immigration cases were pending. The report reveals that INS attorneys raised questions about the lawfulness of this policy, but the Justice Department did not address these issues in a timely manner.
  • Physical and verbal abuse: The report finds a pattern of physical and verbal abuse by some federal correctional staff at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York. The investigation of these particular abuses is ongoing.
  • Restrictive conditions of detention: The OIG documented the extremely restrictive high-security conditions under which the Federal Bureau of Prisons housed September 11 detainees at the MDC, including round-the-clock confinement in small cells that were constantly illuminated.

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