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U.S. Government Settles 9-11 Detainee Abuse Suit for $300,000

In a document filed February 27, 2006, the U.S. government agreed to pay an Egyptian who was
caught up in the post-9-11 sweep and detained for a year at the Brooklyn Metropolitan
Detention Center (MDC) $300,000 to settle his claims of having been abused by MDC guards.

Ehab Elmaghraby, the Egyptian former detainee, and Javaid Iqbal, a Pakistani former detainee,
filed a civil rights suit in federal district court in Brooklyn, New York, alleging that F.B.I. Director
Robert S. Mueller III and former Attorney General John Ashcroft personally conspired to violate
the rights of detainees on the basis of race, religion and national origin. The United States,
thirty-three government employees and officials and 19 John Doe MDC guards were named as
defendants. In the Fall of 2005, the court ruled that Ashcroft, Mueller, and other top
administration officials had to answer interrogatories submitted by the plaintiffs as part of the
discovery process in preparation for trial. The suit alleges that both plaintiffs were rounded up,
along with 760 other people, on charges of immigration violations in the weeks following the
September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They, and 182 others, were identified as of high interest
and imprisoned under super segregation conditions until the F.B.I. cleared them of having
terrorism ties many months later. The imprisonment allegedly included 23-hours-a-day solitary
confinement and denial of adequate medical treatment and nourishment.

During their imprisonment, both claim to have been kicked and punched until they bled while
shackled and compliant. They also alleged having been shoved into walls, having been verbally
abused with racial slurs and having been subjected to unwarranted body-cavity searches,
including a rectal assault with a flashlight that left Elmaghraby bleeding. Elmaghraby, 38, who
ran a restaurant near Times Square and had a weekend flea market stand prior to his arrest,
reluctantly decided to settle because he is in Egypt awaiting surgery for a thyroid ailment he
alleges was aggravated by his mistreatment in U.S. custody, during which the condition was
misdiagnosed as asthma. The settlement, which does not include separate attorney fees,
eliminates Elmaghraby as a plaintiff in the suit; however, the suit continues with Iqbal as the sole

Both plaintiffs were allegedly coerced by government officials into pleading guilty to minor
federal crimes in exchange for their release from imprisonment and deportation. Elmaghraby
pleaded guilty to credit card fraud while Iqbal pleaded guilty to possession of false identity
papers and checks. Both maintain they pleaded guilty only to bring the imprisonment and abuse
to an end. Both were deported in 2003.

Iqbal and several other former detainees returned to New York this year to give depositions in
their lawsuits. However, this was allowed only under the extraordinary conditions that a federal
marshal accompany them at all times and that they not make any phone calls while in the U.S.
Elmaghraby's poor health kept him from coming. Such high security is odd for ex-immigrants
who, to a man, have been cleared of having ties to the armed resistance movements.

Despite the abuse he suffered, Elmaghraby, in imperfect English, expressed confidence in the
just termination of the suit.

I lived 13 years in New York, said Elmaghraby. I see a lot of big cases on TV. I think the judge is

He may be right about the judge. When faced with the government's claim that the post-9-11
threat of terrorism allowed them to violate the constitution with impunity, Judge John Gleeson of
the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York held that, "Our nation's unique and
complex law enforcement and security challenges in the wake of the September 11, 2001,
attacks do not warrant the elimination of remedies for the constitutional violations alleged here."
A U.S. Department of Justice inspector general's report released in 2003 reported widespread
prisoner abuse of terrorism suspects at MDC. It also noted that little effort was given to
distinguishing people swept up by chance from legitimate terrorism suspects and that clearing
them of suspicion of terrorism-related activities was assigned a low priority that caused their
detention to take months instead of days.

Much of the abuse of detainees at MDC was videotaped and the videotapes were the basis for
many of the report's findings. However, on August 15, 2005, Glenn Fine, the inspector general,
revealed that hundreds of previously undisclosed videotapes had been discovered. These
included some videotapes improperly containing privileged conversations between attorneys and
their clients and others showing guards abusing prisoners. The Justice Department is
investigating the failure to turn over the tapes.

According to federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) spokeswoman Traci L. Billingsley, the BOP began its
own investigation of the prison abuse in April 2004, after federal prosecutors declined to
prosecute. The investigation resulted in 10 disciplinary actions against federal employees,
including two firings, two demotions, and six suspensions of between two and thirty days.
Because the disciplinary actions only involved a few low-level officials and little punishment, it is
likely that the settlement may have the greater impact on the future conduct of government
prison employees.

Elmaghraby was represented by Haeyoung Yoon of the Urban Justice Center; and Joan
Magoolaghan and Alexander Reinert of the New York firm of Koob & Magoolaghan.

This is a substantial settlement and shows for the first time that the government can be held
accountable for the abuses that have occurred in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and in prisons
right here in the United States, said Reinert.

The prisoner abuse led to other lawsuits. A class-action suit alleging prisoner abuse was filed by
the Center for Constitutional Rights in 2002 on behalf of hundreds of detainees in Brooklyn and
New Jersey who were held on immigration charges. The Legal Aid Society is suing over the
unlawful taping of privileged attorney-client conversations. This suit will also continue with Iqbal
as the sole plaintiff. See: Stipulation for Compromise Settlement and Release of Federal Tort
Claim Act Claims Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2677 in Elmaghraby vs. United States, USDC ED NY,
Case No. 04-CV-1809-JG-SMG.

Sources: New York Times, Associated Press

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Related legal case

Elmaghraby vs. United States