Sept 11 detainees to sue Attorney General

Civil rights lawyers in the US have said they planned to sue US Attorney General John Ashcroft and other officials, alleging widespread abuse of Middle Eastern men detained on immigration violations after September 11.

Civil rights lawyers in the US have said they planned to sue US Attorney General John Ashcroft and other officials, alleging widespread abuse of Middle Eastern men detained on immigration violations after September 11.

A draft copy of the class action lawsuit - expected to be filed in federal court today - alleges the plaintiffs have been subjected to unreasonable and excessively harsh conditions even though they have never been charged with a crime.

In some cases, detainees were ‘‘placed in tiny, windowless cells for over 23 hours a day’’, the suit alleges. ‘‘Many class members have suffered physical and verbal abuse by their guards. Some were badly beaten.’’

The Centre for Constitutional Rights in Manhattan, New York, released the draft yesterday, saying it would be the first filed on behalf of hundreds of detainees, some still behind bars.

‘‘There’s no explanation for why they’re being held,’’ said centre attorney Barbara Olshansky. ‘‘These people are being treated worse than criminals.’’

Spokesmen for the Justice Department and Immigration and Naturalization Service would not comment before the suit is filed. But INS spokesman Bill Strassberger said the US government insists on a high standard of treatment for detainees.

The draft complaint cites several examples, including the case of Asif-ur-Rehman Saffi, a native of Pakistan, who was arrested at La Guardia Airport in New York on September 30 after his tourist visa expired.

Although an immigration judge ordered him to be deported, the lawsuit alleges he was jailed until March and locked in an isolation unit. Guards allegedly subjected him to strip searches and ‘‘severe beatings to the point of unconsciousness’’, the suit said.

The lawsuit asks a judge to issue an order protecting the detainees’ rights to due process and appoint a monitor to oversee their treatment.

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