US settles lawsuit alleging abuse of men detained after 9/11

The Justice Department has settled a decades-old lawsuit filed by a group of men who were rounded up by the government in the weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks and held in a federal jail in New York in conditions the department’s own watchdog called abusive and harsh.

The settlement (PFD) announced on Tuesday calls for a $98,000 payout to be split among the six men who filed the suit and were held without terrorism charges at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York.

The men – Ahmer Iqbal Abbasi, Anser Mehmood, Benamar Benatta, Ahmed Khalifa, Saeed Hammouda, and Purna Raj Bajracharya – said they were detained in restrictive conditions and, in some cases, abused by members of the staff.

“Among other documented abuses, including beatings, forced sleep deprivation, and racial and religious slurs, many of the victims 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 Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal organisation based in New York City who represents the men, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The men were slammed against the t-shirt upon their entrance to MDC and told ‘welcome to America’,” according to the statement.

us settles lawsuit alleging abuse of men detained after 9/11
© Provided by Al Jazeera Performance artists taking part in the “Rally Against War, Racism & Islamophobia” in New York City [File: Chip East via Reuters]

The settlement 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 September 11 attacks.

More than 1,000 were arrested in sweeps across the New York metropolitan area and nationwide. Most were charged only with overstaying visas and deported back to their home countries. But before that happened, many were held in detention for months, with little outside contact, especially with their families.

They were, according to the 9/11 Commission report, arrested as “special interest” detainees. Immigration hearings were closed, detainee communication was limited, and bond was denied until the detainees were cleared of terrorist connections. Identities were kept secret.

“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 Benamar Benatta, one of the detainees and a plaintiff in the case, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights press release.

“I don’t believe justice is properly served, considering the detrimental consequences the defendants’ actions have had on my life,” he said.

“I can’t help but feel let down by the whole judicial system – federal courts had the opportunity to remedy the situation but chose not to intervene, and, by doing so, they left the door open for future mistreatment and abuse to take place without any ramifications.”

us settles lawsuit alleging abuse of men detained after 9/11
© Provided by Al Jazeera The Justice Department did not admit guilt in the settlement, but each of the men received a letter from the director of the Bureau of Prisons acknowledging they were “held in excessively restrictive and unduly harsh conditions” [File: Mark Lennihan/AP]

The settlement is somewhat unusual because federal courts at nearly every level, including the Supreme Court, had thrown out large chunks of the lawsuit. A federal district court judge threw out the remaining part of the suit last year. Though the plaintiffs filed an appeal, there had been little action in the case for months.

Though 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 the Justice Department had determined they were “held in excessively restrictive and unduly harsh conditions of confinement and a number of individuals were physically and verbally abused by certain MDC officers”.

The lawsuit originally sought accountability from high-level members of the George W Bush administration, and a settlement was reached in 2008 with the original five plaintiffs. Others were added.

“I don’t know that the director of the Bureau of Prisons has ever signed a letter of this nature before to individual clients, so that is unique,” said Rachel Meeropol, senior staff lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Meeropol called the court battle a failure of the justice system, pointing to the limitations on claims against federal officials.

The Justice Department did not immediately comment.

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Palay-Palay  National ParkAbout PagudpudFive Levels of Aguinid FallsIntroducing San Pascual, MasbateMount Manmanoc ItineraryAdventures in Fortune Island of Nasugbu | LakwatseroNext Level Mobile Photography with Sony Xperia XZ1 | LakwatseroScuba Diving in Siargao: Discovering the Underwater Treasures of Daku Island | LakwatseroAbout Davao CityHow to Get to AndaJanuary: Cebu & IloiloHow to Get to Mines View ParkKamay ni Hesus: Pilgrimage Site in Lucban | LakwatseroPoon Hill: Three Days of Himalayan AdventureCalvary Hill Cemetery of SagadaHow to Get to TambobongMilford SoundTen Things To Do in Sagada: Bucket List for NewbiesDahoyhoy FallsPilot for a Day: The Ultra Light Aircraft Experience | LakwatseroReal Coffee and Tea Cafe of Boracay | LakwatseroGhorepani Poon Hill TrekAbout Maniwaya IslandHow to Get to Binanga FallsPalo Alto Falls of Baras, Rizal | LakwatseroExplore Moscow: Best Things to Do in the City | LakwatseroStairway to HeavenMount Guiting-Guiting Overnight Trek Complete ItineraryCape Melville LighthouseLa Cathedral Café: Restaurant with a View in IntramurosKapurpurawan Rock Formation: White and BeautifulDay Hike ItineraryThe Sandbox at AlvieraHow to go to Mararison IslandA Weekend of Adventures in South Cebu and DumagueteCalayan Island: A Virtual Diary of Our Epic Journey | LakwatseroFaro de Isla Jintotolo (Jintotolo Island Lighthouse)Low’s PeakAbout Taal VolcanoHow to Get to Mag-aso Falls of BoholSamar: Biri Rock Formations Up Close | LakwatseroBonbon BeachIntroducing Jomalig IslandAbout Cotabato CityAbout TabukLeyte Landing Memorial: A Memorial for a Fulfilled Promise | LakwatseroSilyang Bato, Mount MaramiPanimahawa Ridge and Cedar Falls Day Hike ItineraryFun in the World’s Best IslandSample Albay ItinerariesMagpupungko Beach and Tidal Pools6 Tips for Living in the Philippines | LakwatseroDaraga Church: The Nuestra Señora dela Porteria ChurchTulgao Rice TerracesCape Melville Lighthouse (Faro del Cabo Melville)Canyoneering to Kawasan FallsLake FewaLong Weekend: Five-Day Suggested Itineraries in Luzon | LakwatseroAbout CaponesThe Wichcraft Café of Zamboanga City | LakwatseroHow to Get to GuiuanAll-Female FloorHow to Get to Neri’s VilleDiotay’s EateryShort but Sweet Melaka Getaway | LakwatseroHow to Get to Tinuy-An FallsOslob: The Lost Grandeur of Tumalog Falls | LakwatseroIlocos ItineraryDitumabo Falls: The Mother Falls of San Luis, Aurora!Biking in Kalinga: Trek and Bike to TabukParadise Garden: A Haven for Sea TurtlesSiargao: Magpupungko Beach and Tidal Pools | LakwatseroAbout Bucas GrandeCoral GardenSagadaA Walk in Sangay Siapo Island Before it is Gone? | LakwatseroAmbaguio-Akiki ItineraryCorregidor Island Lighthouse (Faro dela Isla de Corregidor)Faro de Punta de Malabrigo (Malabrigo Point Lighthouse)About CulionNaidi Hill LighthouseBoquete IslandHow to Commute to Temple of LeahCatanduanes: The Heritage Church of Bato | Lakwatsero1. White Water Rafting or KayakingMount Fuji Overnight Climb ItinerarySip & Gogh Paint Studio: Unleash Your Inner Van Gogh | LakwatseroBatanes ItineraryHow to Get to Quitinday HillsAbout Callao CaveDiscover LakawonBiking to Taal: A Fun Ride to Batangas’ Heritage TownAntique Blooming: The Rafflesia of San RemigioMalasimbo Lights and Dance FestivalBacolod ItineraryPoon HillAttractions in Mirador Heritage and Eco ParkHulhumale Public BeachRomblon Island: Bonbon Beach, Tiamban Beach & MoreAdventure in Sabah: White Water Rafting in Padas River | LakwatseroHow to Get to Hinakpan Mystical HillsWelcome to Lake SebuAbout CasiguranAbout BuscalanHow to Go to Kalanggaman IslandFaro de Cabo Bojeador (Cape Bojeador Lighthouse)Backpacking Maldives: Budget Itinerary, Expenses & TipsHow to Get ThereOffbeat Bohol Itinerary: 3D/2N of AdventuresHow to Get to Tawi-TawiAlona BeachPangilatan Falls: The Forgotten Gem of Tapaz, CapizWorld War I: SMS Cormoran II3D/2N Taiwan Itinerary: Taipei – Yehliu – ShiffenLaos for Backpackers: Getting There on a BudgetBasic RequirementsHow to Get to Antong FallsCathedral CaveHow to Go to Gubat, SorsogonAbout SadangaHow to Get to Bugui Point LighthouseHow to Get to Cabra Island LighthouseCebu Itinerary: Three-Day Adventures in the SouthAbout AndaLuna: A Day in the Show Window of Apayao | LakwatseroMargues Blue LagoonFinding Palaui’s Cape Engaño Lighthouse | LakwatseroHow to Get to Mantayupan Falls of Barili, CebuHow to Get to MaligcongLinapacan Islands: Between Paradise | LakwatseroKLIA to KLCCHow to Get to JomaligBanaug ShoalEspadang Bato – Payaran Falls Day Hike Itinerary10 Remarkable Philippine Destinations for Solo TravelMiagao Church: A UNESCO World Heritage Site in IloiloAbout Carbin ReefAbout Parola IslandCabra WreckageCobra Falls: Ozamiz City’s Best Kept SecretBasco: The Chapel on the Hill of Tukon | LakwatseroBack in Kathmandu’s Lovely Mess | LakwatseroHimalayan Adventure: Kathmandu to Pokhara Overland | LakwatseroItineraryChinatown Vancouver (Stop #23)Situbo Falls: Tampilisan's Awesome SurpriseHow to Get to Inambakan FallsTuasan Falls: Another Camiguin’s Charmer | LakwatseroHow to Get to Lake SebuMarinduque Loop: Biking in the Heart of the Philippines1. 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