Former 9/11 detainee accuses U.S. of abuse

By Matthew Verrinder | October 4, 2006

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Javaid Iqbal's lawyers say the Pakistani cable repairman was snatched in the post-September 11 dragnet and held for over a year at a Brooklyn detention center, where guards beat him mercilessly.

Iqbal, like hundreds of Muslims or Arabs detained in the days after the attacks but never charged, sued the U.S. government, saying that he was held and abused for no legitimate reason.

His case was heard on Wednesday by a federal appeals court in Manhattan.

The court's three-judge panel will decide to overturn or let stand a lower court's ruling that allows Iqbal's lawyers to seek information from former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, former Bureau of Prisons head Kathleen Hawk Sawyer and Metropolitan Detention Center officials to find out what they knew about the alleged abuse.

Gregory G. Garre, a U.S. Department of Justice lawyer representing Ashcroft and Mueller, said the chaos surrounding September 11 made it unclear what the law was and that Iqbal's complaint does not properly show his clients' involvement.

Alex Reinert, Iqbal's lawyer, said the suit was to remedy abuse. "The government can't be allowed to reflexively target people on the basis of race, religion and national origin even in times of chaos," the lawyer said.

Federal authorities detained 762 non-citizens -- almost all Muslims or Arabs -- in the weeks after the attacks as part of a sweeping counterterrorism effort.

The U.S. government in February paid $300,000 to settle with Iqbal's co-plaintiff and fellow detainee Ehab Elmaghraby, an Egyptian, although it did not admit wrongdoing.

Elmaghraby, who owned a restaurant in Manhattan, also said he was abused in the high security unit of the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. Aside from repeated body-cavity searches and beatings while shackled, Elmaghraby said guards stuck a flashlight into his anus.

The center was cited in a 2003 report by the Justice Department's inspector general for gross detainee abuse.

"They kept the lights in his cell on 24 hours a day, he was strip-searched repeatedly, beaten, dragged across the floor, and given one hour of exercise out of his cell and that was in a small cage," Reinert said of Iqbal.

Iqbal said he lost nearly 40 pounds (18 kg) and suffered depression after his detention. Shortly after his release in 2003, Reinert said he pleaded guilty to having false social security papers and writing bad checks and served time in prison before being deported.

Like Elmaghraby, he had been cleared of any link to terrorism.