Federal 9/11 Detainee Abuse Caught on Tape; Men Falsely Held as Terrorists Were Beaten, Humiliated

December 18, 2003 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Contact: Media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON – In a surprise development, hundreds of videotapes that were originally said by the Department of Justice not to exist were discovered recently by its own internal affairs bureau and document many of the detainee abuses listed in an earlier internal report. In one case, the tapes show federal prison guards pushing detainees’ faces into a wall-hanging t-shirt emblazoned with the U.S. flag and the words, “These colors don’t run!”

The American Civil Liberties Union today blasted the Justice Department’s conduct in the matter, calling for immediate Congressional action to prevent future such disgraces.

“The tapes show that immigrants were abused at the hands of their jailers.” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. “Hundreds of immigrants were detained even though they had no connection to the terrorist attacks and now we find out that the government abused many of them while in detention. Clearly, the Justice Department’s war on terrorism quickly became a war on immigrants.”

Today’s story is the sequel to another controversy, which broke last June when the Justice Department’s Inspector General – its own internal watchdog – released a scathing report criticizing Bureau of Prison and Justice Department officials for their record of procedural and physical abuse against the hundreds of mainly Middle Eastern men rounded up right after 9/11. Practically all of these men were found to have no connection whatsoever to terrorism.

In the June report, the Bureau of Prisons, which reports to the Justice Department, told the Inspector General’s office that hundreds of prison surveillance videotapes simply did not exist. However, when the Inspector General’s office went back to do a final inventory of the evidence cited in the report, they found the tapes clearly listed in a Bureau of Prisons inventory. The tapes, according to a new Inspector General report released today, actually show the physical, verbal and legal abuse of the detainees.

Shocking in their scope and variety, the abuses included actions like the U.S. flag incident described above, other instances where federal prison guards slammed detainees against walls and bars by their heads or necks, the misuse of strip searches and physical restraints to punish detainees, and the practice of illegally recording detainees’ meetings with attorneys. This inappropriate treatment is in addition to the procedural abuses described in the June report, which included a quasi-official no-bond, no-release policy promoted by senior officials at the Justice Department during the roundup.

The tapes directly contradict explicit denials by Bureau of Prison officials of such conduct and have prompted the Inspector General’s office to call for disciplinary action against the guards involved.

“Today’s developments unfortunately show that we allowed ourselves to abandon our core principles of fairness, equality and humane treatment of immigrants after 9/11,” Romero said.

See the ACLU’s release on the June 2002 report at:

See the supplemental Inspector General Report:

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release