Feds settle in suit over post-9-11 detainments

The federal government has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle the cases of five Muslim immigrants were among hundreds detained without charge in Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center for months after 9-11. The plaintiffs—whose names were cleared but were still deported—accepted the payout after seven years of court cases. A larger suit filed by other detainees, Turkmen v. Ashcroft, is ongoing. The government admits no liability or fault under the terms of the settlements.

Though he accepted the settlement, a former detainee who was held for eight months, continues to feel that he was abused and wrongfully imprisoned. “Being held in that place for 249 days—$270,000 is not going to make up for that experience,” said Yasser Ebrahim, who worked as a web designer in Brooklyn before being deported to Egypt.

Attorneys for the detainees—who claim widespread abuse by guards—say the settlement is a sign the government has rethought its policy on detaining immigrants. “I believe a settlement of this size is a deterrent to the United States from ever again rounding up innocent noncitizens based only on suspicion about their race and religion,” said lawyer Rachel Meeropol. “These were guys called terrorists and treated as terrorists, shoved against the blood-spattered picture of the American flag and told, you’re never getting out of here alive. And it’s a long way from that to where they are now.”

The settlement comes on the heels of revelations in the New York Times of harsh conditions at the little-known Varick Street Detention Facility in lower Manhattan. The facility imprisons about 11,000 men every year on the fourth floor of a federal office building, where inmates complain of “frigid temperatures, mildew and meals that leave detainees hungry and willing to clean for $1 a day to pay for commissary food.” The jail has been “chronically overcrowded since 1998” and has failed to meet federal standards for the past nine years because it lacks an outdoor recreation space. Worse, lawyers allege they can’t provide proper counsel to prisoners because “immigrant detainees, unlike criminal defendants, can be held without legal representation and moved from state to state without notice,” the paper of record notes. “Any attempt to get support or services for them is stymied because you don’t know where they’re going to end up,” said Lynn M. Kelly, the director of the Justice Center. (The Gothamist, NYT, Nov. 3; The Gothamist, Nov. 2; NYT, Nov. 1)

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