Take It As Red

"Blogging is, by its very nature, erratic and irregular, feverish effort punctuated by random silence, a conundrum wrapped in a contradiction wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an unclosed em tag. " - The Poor Man

Friday, February 25


'Bring me Your Poor Your Huddled Masses, Yearning To Be...Tortured?"

I can remember, back in 2001, being outraged by the rounding up of Middle-Eastern people by law enforcement in the US, apparently on the grounds that they were a] brown-skinned and b] not American. I've always wondered what happened to those poor people: well now we know. Many were imprisoned and tortured, many deported; hardly any were charged with any offence, and none were convicted, as a result of Operation Liberty Shield.


"...police stopped an Amtrak train bound for Penn Station and took ten passengers in for questioning. All but one were eventually released; the one was held on charges unrelated to the hijackings. Meera Kumar, who works for the Ford Motor Company, was among the passengers held. "We're in a terrible emergency," Kumar told a reporter later. "But I'm a full-fledged tax-paying United States citizen. I shouldn't have been subjected to this, nor should anybody else."

A new Middle Eastern restaurant just blocks from St. Vincent's Hospital,the closest trauma center to the site of the World Trade Center, began putting American flags in its window and displaying a blackboard calling its cuisine Israeli, after several ominous incidents; in one, a customer told a waitress that he had a gun."

Not long after this the US mmigration service got all antsy about Middle Eastern immigrants and started calling them in for interview. What happened next?


Operation Liberty Shield:A New Series of Interviews of Iraqi-Born Individuals in the U.S. Is The Latest Example of Dragnet Justice

By ANITA RAMASASTRY ---- Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2003

Recently, the FBI commenced a round of interviews of "a number of
Iraqi-born individuals" residing throughout the United States - both citizens
and non-citizens alike. 50,000 Iraqi nationals are on the list; 11,000 have so
far been targeted for interviews. No one seems to know what the criteria are, by
which the 11,000 were chosen.

The "voluntary" interviews are
part of a program initiated by the Department of Homeland Security known as
Operation Liberty Shield. Their purpose is "to elicit information that may be
useful to the U.S. government in the event of hostilities in Iraq."
Interestingly, the interview program is listed under the heading "Monitoring
Terrorist Suspects

This new wave of interviews is the latest round of dragnet justice. Once again, federal law enforcement has cast an overly broad net in the hope of uncovering leads in its fight against terrorism and its war in Iraq.

Last year, the government did not claim concrete benefits from a similar type of time-consuming dragnet initiatives aimed at Middle Eastern men in the U.S. on visitor visas. And it's not surprising: What terrorist would show up for "voluntary" interview? And even if one did, wouldn't he be carefully prepared to lie adeptly?

Over the past year-and-a-half, the federal government has engaged in various rounds of interviews of immigrants present in the U.S., and has compiled extensive information as a result of its interviews.

For example, in the fall of 2001, the government conducted "voluntary" interviews of 5,000 men of Middle Eastern background between the ages of 18 and 33 who were present in the U.S. on visitor visas. Could the men bring attorneys? The "invitation" to appear did not say. As I noted an earlier column, these interviews asked individuals to divulge highly personal information- where they worshipped, who their friends were, the names, addresses and phone numbers of their friends and colleagues. By creating robust profiles of interviewees and their associates, the federal government was likely able to build a profile of entire communities and their daily lives.

Those Americans who feel this effort is reasonable should consider this scenario: How would you feel if - in a foreign country facing national security threats, where you were studying or working - you were rounded up by a foreign intelligence entity, and questioned in this highly personal fashion, simply because of your national origin?

I believe most Americans would see this treatment as both terrifying and unfair. That then raises the question of why we don't see our own treatment of Middle Eastern visitors the same way.


More recently, the federal government instituted a special registration process for
foreign men from Middle Eastern countries, or countries with large Muslim populations. These men must register with immigration authorities either at a port of entry or a designated immigration office in accordance with the special registration procedures.
Again, as in the Fall 2001 round of interviews, an intrusive battery of questions is asked. In addition, visitors are fingerprinted and photographed. At last count, approximately 102,000 men have registered.

Can the persons interviewed have counsel present if they choose? The Department of Justice, and federal regulations, say yes. But the reality is often different. According to the ACLU, Georgia and Washington, DC immigration officials have stated that lawyers may be excluded from portions of the registration process. Further reports indicate that regional offices in Florida, New York, Texas and Illinois have also blocked attorneys from accompanying their clients.

In addition, even where attorneys are technically allowed, visitors may not be able to afford them, or may simply be too intimidated to use them.

To add to all these problems, the guidelines for these interview processes have not always been well publicized. Understandably, they have therefore caused fear and confusion in immigrant communities in the United States.

The Special Registration process had also had surprising consequences. Individuals who were in the process of having their permanent resident paperwork processed or their visa status lawfully changed found themselves being rounded up and detained when they arrived to register in California and other states. "

Hmm, I wonder whatever happened to those people who were detained? This:

  • 2005

    'Brooklyn's Abu Ghraib'
    "Terror suspects allege abuse


    Some prisoners held at Brooklyn's federal Metropolitan Detention Center say they were abused by guards. Defense attorneys call it Brooklyn's Abu Ghraib. On the ninth floor of the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, terrorism suspects swept off the streets after the Sept. 11 attacks were repeatedly stripped naked and frequently were physically abused, the Justice Department's inspector general has found.

    The detainees - none of whom were ultimately charged with anything related to terrorism - alleged in sworn affidavits and in interviews with Justice Department officials that correction officers:

    Humiliated them by making fun of - and sometimes painfully squeezing - their genitals. Deprived them of regular sleep for weeks or months.

  • Shackled their hands and feet before smashing them repeatedly face-first into concrete walls - within sight of the Statue of Liberty.

  • Forced them in winter to stand outdoors at dawn while dressed in light cotton prison garb and no shoes, sometimes for hours.

  • "In December, they left me outside for more than four hours [wearing] only a jumpsuit and a light prison coat," Ahmed Khalifa, an Egyptian, told the Daily News. "I asked them to let me inside. They were laughing and pointing to me. When I finally got back inside, I felt like I had frostbite."

The Justice Department's inspector general has substantiated some of the prisoners' allegations - and some incidents were captured on videotape. But the Justice Department has declined to prosecute any federal correction officer at MDC.

"I was informed the videos amounted to nothing more than shoving, but no serious injuries," said one Justice Department official, who would speak only on condition he not be identified.
But Inspector General Glenn Fine, whose staff reviewed 380 MDC videotapes, reported in 2003 that "These tapes substantiated many of the detainees' allegations." Furthermore, the officers were not just a few bad apples but "a significant percentage of those who had regular contact with the detainees," Fine wrote last March.

The Justice Department currently is reconsidering its rejection of a News Freedom of Information request for the tapes, after the paper filed an appeal.

Meanwhile, interviews by The News with 12 ex-detainees - all but one now deported for visa violations - and a review of sworn complaints filed against the Bureau of Prisons adds shocking detail to the earlier findings of what occurred at MDC.

The picture that emerges mirrors some of the abuses the International Committee of the Red Cross denounced recently as "tantamount to torture" when inflicted by U.S. military authorities on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Wael Kishk, an Egyptian student who was unable to walk, alleges he was beaten by guards on Feb. 15, 2002 - the same day he complained to a judge in open court about earlier mistreatment at MDC. When guards were returning him to the jail that day, he says they threw him into the back of a transport bus with his hands cuffed behind his back and his ankles shackled close together. Kishk, now in Cairo, recalled landing painfully on the floor, face down, unable to break his fall.

Back at MDC, said Kishk, the guards piled him into a wheelchair and took him to a room where they stripped him and "started stomping on me."

"There were three of them - with their leader, four," Kishk said. "They took all my clothes off and turned me on my stomach. Then, the leader put his foot on the back of my neck and told me, 'All of this is so you will stop playing games,'" an apparent reference to his statements in court.

Rami Dahmany, another Egyptian inmate, alleged he was injured by two guards - Michael McCabe and Christopher Witschel - when he complained about a strip search. They grabbed an already injured finger on his right hand and bent it painfully far back, then twisted it hard.
"They saw the finger was damaged," said Dahmany, speaking by phone from Egypt. "I still have an injury from that. I can't fold my hand. The finger stands up all the time."

McCabe and Witschel are accused of similar conduct in a lawsuit filed by other former inmates.
Witschel declined comment. McCabe could not be reached.

All the detainees complained of frequent strip searches - sometimes six a day - even though they remained continuously isolated in solitary confinement or were shackled when taken to court hearings.

Ehab ElMaghraby, a restaurant worker from Egypt, alleges in a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons that MDC guard Steven Barrere inserted a flashlight into his rectum during a strip search while other guards looked on. ElMaghraby said he saw blood on the withdrawn flashlight. Two other MDC officials - Michael DeFrancisco and Raymond Cotton - inserted a pencil into his rectum during other searches, ElMaghraby alleged.

Barrere's attorney, James Ryan, denounced ElMaghraby's allegations as "factually baseless." Cotton's attorney, Nicholas Kaizer, labeled ElMaghraby's charges "preposterous," adding, "ElMaghraby is trying to get rich through these fanciful claims."

Kishk, who has not filed any lawsuit, described strip searches in which a guard would grab his genitals "so hard, it hurt badly" - a charge echoed by Egyptian detainee Ashraf Ibrahim in a suit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

"There's a lot more I can't describe," said Kishk. "It was very degrading." Oded Ellner - one of five Israeli Jewish terrorist suspects - said he sought medical help after MDC's allegedly meager, often spoiled meals left him with severe dysentery symptoms. The doctor came with five guards and a camera, he said. She then ordered him to strip and shift his backside into a small space in the cell door so she could conduct a rectal exam from outside the cell.

"I'm a human being, not an animal!" Ellner said he shouted. "I have a right to an exam." The guards, he said, "just laughed," and all walked away.

The prisoners interviewed by The News were part of a group of 84 detainees jailed at MDC between Sept. 11, 2001, and September 2002. Some 1,200 such immigrants were jailed nationwide, including 400 in nearby Passaic County, N.J., where abuses were also reported.
Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Prisons, said that her agency began an investigation of abuse allegations last April - it is still ongoing - after the Justice Department decided not to prosecute anyone.

"Any substantiated incident will be addressed with appropriate disciplinary action and, where appropriate, criminal prosecution," she said.

Robert Nardoza, spokesman for the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, which participated in the criminal investigation, said government efforts to prosecute alleged abusers at MDC were frustrated when six inmates who had complained of abuse chose deportation to their home countries rather than continued imprisonment until a possible trial at some point where they might testify as witnesses.

Nardoza referred further questions to the department's Civil Rights Division. He would not say whether prosecutors pursued options such as video depositions from abroad, closed-circuit TV testimony or even temporarily returning ex-inmates here to testify.

Civil Rights Division spokesman Eric Holland has refused to talk with The News. None of the inmates who spoke to The News said they were ever asked to testify. All said they were ready to do so.

"It's a whitewash," said Steven Leegan, an attorney for Indian Muslim inmate Mohammed Jaweed Azmat. "This was a mini-Abu Ghraib in Brooklyn."

In fact, "It was worse," he said, "because these were not guardsmen thrown together but supposedly highly trained federal corrections officers doing the same thing long before we sent troops into Iraq."

"I was very trusting of the system," said Kishk. "I was infatuated and overtaken by your ideals of tolerance."

"I got the flip side of all the ideals I believed America held." "



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