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$98,000 Paid by BOP to Immigrant Detainees Racially Profiled as Terrorists in New York City Lockup

by Kevin W. Bliss

An out-of-court settlement between the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and a group of former immigrant detainees was made public on July 5, 2022. The plaintiffs, all Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men, were allegedly racially profiled as terrorists. They were awarded $98,000 in damages, and BOP’s parent agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, also admitted they were held in overly restrictive conditions and violently abused.

That abuse occurred at BOP’s Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, immediately following the 9/11 disaster. Six immigrant detainees — Ahmer Iqbal Abbasi, Anser Mehmood, Benamar Benatta, Ahmed Khalifa, Saeed Hammouda and Purna Raj Bajracharya — testified that upon entering MDC, they were immediately placed in solitary confinement despite charges that were merely civil immigration violations. There they were ridiculed and verbally abused, they claimed, even beaten and deprived of simple necessities.

At one point they were led to a room, where on the wall hung a t-shirt printed with the American flag and the words “These colors don’t run.” The men said guards then slammed their faces into the wall and told them, “welcome to America.” This t-shirt allegedly hung on the wall for months, smeared with their blood and that of other racially profiled immigrant detainees.

The six men filed a class-action suit in federal court for the Eastern District of New York in April 2002 against MDC and then-Warden Dennis Hasty for the abuses perpetuated upon them as suspected “terrorists” due to their ethnicity. Plaintiffs stated that Warden Hasty’s policies, practices, and procedures encouraged this behavior. They said Hasty purposefully turned a blind eye to the abuses being inflicted on them. Moreover, he did not make required inspection rounds in the prison, manipulated internal complaints to deny the men their right to legal redress, and referred to them as “terrorists” in internal communications, the lawsuit alleged.

After complaints were lodged with federal agencies, MDC was required to videotape all 9/11 detainee transports — recordings that then helped corroborate Plaintiffs’ accusations. Guards were recorded stepping on detainees’ restraints, twisting their hands behind their backs, and abusing them in other ways.

The class-action suit sought to hold several high-level officials of the Bush administration responsible for these atrocities. But when the U.S. Supreme Court heard an appeal to this case, it ruled in 2017 that actions against higher-level government officials by immigrant detainees are barred. It also limited compensation for them in cases like this for constitutional violations. See: Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843 (2017).

As a result, Plaintiffs in this case received a total of just $98,000 for their abuse — $17,000 for Hammouda and Benatta, who were both detained over six months at MDC, and $16,000 for each of the other four.

“I am glad that the case is coming to an end after two decades of litigation,” stated Benatta. “However, it is a bittersweet conclusion for me. I don’t believe justice is properly served … I can’t help but feel let down by the whole judicial system.” See: Turkmen v. Ashcroft, USDC (E.D.N.Y.), Case No: 1:02-cv-02307. 

Additional source: Center for Constitutional Rights

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