Deported Muslims return to sue US govt for abuse

By Claudia Parsons
Mon Jan 23, 2006 5:21 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Muslim detained for months without charge after September 11 and then deported to Egypt gave a deposition in New York on Monday in a suit against the U.S. government for unlawful imprisonment and abuse.

Yasser Ebrahim was one of four Muslim men allowed to return to participate in the case, but only under strict conditions including confinement to their hotel rooms throughout their stay.

The men, who were cleared of any connection to terrorism, say they suffered inhumane and degrading treatment in a Brooklyn detention center, including solitary confinement, severe beatings, incessant verbal abuse and a total blackout on communications with their families and attorneys.

Ebrahim's attorneys said the men will be deposed over the next two weeks in a class action suit against the government over the treatment of more than 1,200 Muslim and South Asian men rounded up after the September 11 attacks blamed on al Qaeda.

The case comes as the Bush administration is being accused of disregarding constitutional rights. Last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is handling the Muslim men's case, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed lawsuits asserting that President George W. Bush's authorization of wiretaps of U.S. citizens without court warrants was illegal.

The CCR said the conditions for the Muslims' return to the United States also included a ban on their speaking to anybody outside the case.

Ebrahim's brother Hany Ibrahim was due to arrive in New York on Monday, CCR legal director Bill Goodman said, and the other two would arrive at some point in the next two weeks.

Goodman said the restrictions on the four men were highly unusual in a civil case and a sign of what he called government "paranoia over Muslim and Middle Eastern men."

The four are among eight named plaintiffs in the case, which names former Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, immigration officials and prison officers among the defendants. The suit, originally filed in 2002, seeks compensation and punitive damages.

A 2003 report by Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General found that some prison officers slammed detainees against walls, twisted their arms and hands in painful ways, stepped on their leg restraint chains and punished them by keeping them restrained for long periods.

The December 3, 2003, report said videotapes showed some detention center staff "misused strip searches and restraints to punish detainees and that officers improperly and illegally recorded detainees' meetings with their attorneys."

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the case or the terms under which the men were making their depositions.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons said it had fired two people, demoted two more and six had been suspended for periods from two days to 30 days.

"It means a lot to our clients that finally someone is being held accountable for the brutality they experienced," said CCR attorney Matthew Strugar.

"But we believe the responsibility for these abuses goes further up the chain of command at the Bureau of Prisons and we are disappointed more individuals have not yet been held accountable."

According to The New York Times, which interviewed Yasser Ebrahim and his brother Hany in Egypt last week, the two had lived in New York for several years before September 11. Yasser ran a Web site design business and Hany worked in a delicatessen.

The two were arrested on September 30, 2001, and held for around eight months, even after an FBI memo from December 7 stated they were cleared of links to terrorist groups, the lawsuit said. Both had entered the country on tourist visas, but stayed and began working, and an immigration judge ordered their deportation on November 20, 2001.

"I'm seeking justice," Ebrahim was quoted as saying by The New York Times. "It's from the same system that did us injustice before. But I have faith in this system. I know what happened before was a mistake."