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Black Hole in Brooklyn

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  • Djehuti Sundaka
    http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0226/lee.php Black Hole in Brooklyn A Prison Where Detainees Disappear by Chisun Lee On a bleak block in Sunset Park, under
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 30, 2002
      Black Hole in Brooklyn
      A Prison Where Detainees Disappear
      by Chisun Lee

      On a bleak block in Sunset Park, under the BQE, looms the Metropolitan
      Detention Center (MDC), the high-security federal prison to which untold
      numbers of Arabs and South Asians have been whisked after being nabbed
      from their taxis, mosques, and apartments. More post-September 11
      detainees have been jailed in county facilities in New Jersey, but
      critics say MDC houses some of the worst constitutional and human rights
      violations by the federal government in these cases.

      It is a black hole, they say, where immigrants disappear for months into
      extreme isolation and deprivation, only to come out the other end
      accused of no crime that justifies their jail time.

      Shakir Baloch was one of those who vanished into the MDC "hole"—solitary
      confinement—for many months, later winding up at home in Canada, a free
      and, as far as he can tell, unmonitored man. Last week he spoke by phone
      with the Voice about his incarceration, bolstering the claims of lawyers
      and advocates who have filed complaints of cruel conditions and wrangled
      an ongoing investigation of MDC by the U.S. Office of Inspector General.

      "In the beginning, I was thinking, [September 11] was a very big
      incident. They're doing detention for security purposes. They have a
      right," said Baloch. A limo driver at the time, he was arrested in New
      York on September 19, not charged with anything, and confined in
      solitary for five months. For several months, no one knew where he was.

      "After a while, I was like, why are they taking so long, not giving me
      the right to call people, not giving me a lawyer?" he said.

      Baloch spent 23 and a half hours a day alone in his cell under bright
      lights that were always on, without television or, often, even reading
      material. He was shackled hand and foot when outside. He had only hints
      that dozens of others—perhaps 50 or more, according to lawyers—were
      similarly confined. "Through the small window, I saw the guards taking
      others," he said. And he heard rumors that other detainees were
      attempting suicide.

      His wife eventually tracked him down, and Baloch got a lawyer who,
      outraged at the imprisonment without cause, filed a habeas corpus
      petition. As previously reported by the Voice, Baloch was charged
      promptly thereafter with illegally crossing the U.S.-Canada
      border—before September 11, a rarely prosecuted offense. He ultimately
      pled guilty to that and using a fake social security card and was
      sentenced to time served.

      He was deported in April without his identification documents or
      belongings. In Canada, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and severe
      depression. Not long ago considered too dangerous to mingle with other
      inmates, Baloch was approved by a doctor to collect public assistance.
      He said he had been told to take it easy and not seek work for six

      Worse than the confinement itself was the injustice of it, said Baloch.
      The day he was arrested, he said, "They told me, 'You will be going to
      Canada tomorrow. You have your flight at six o'clock in the morning.' "
      So he thought nothing of signing a piece of paper waiving his right to
      seek the Canadian consulate's help.

      "I didn't know they were going to keep me for seven months," he said.

      The guards at MDC cracked jokes about his Pakistani roots and mocked his
      despair. A court document his lawyer filed cites physical abuse by
      guards. "They said, 'There are people who've been here for 20 years, and
      they haven't seen a judge yet,' " Baloch said. "I was scared. When two
      months were gone and I couldn't see anybody, who knew how long it could
      go like that?"

      Once charged and in court, he was transferred into MDC's general
      population. "I was pretty happy," he recalled, laughing at the
      understatement. The company of men convicted of violent felonies was
      welcome compared to months without any. It was then he discovered that a
      letter he'd written his daughter three months earlier had never been
      sent by the prison. "They gave me the letter back."

      The warden and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have denied MDC detainees
      any visits with press and sometimes, advocates say, family. Amnesty
      International was refused a tour of the facility in a recent
      investigation into detention abuses. The DOJ recently reported that 147
      of an original 880 September 11 detainees remain in custody. Advocates
      suspect that this data excludes later arrests in the ongoing dragnet for
      foreigners from Middle Eastern nations.

      Perhaps half a dozen of those detained in September or October are still
      in MDC's "hole," advocates say, putting their time in solitary at over
      half a year. Some 20 were transferred this spring into gen-pop. New
      arrestees keep coming. Adem Carroll, an advocate with the Islamic Circle
      of North America, told the Voice about a Pakistani green-card holder who
      was taken to MDC last week by FBI agents originally looking for his

      Meanwhile, according to press reports and advocates, those detained for
      many months across the country are being released or deported with petty
      charges or no charge at all. Not one detainee arrested since September
      11 has been charged in connection with a terrorism-related crime.

      The ACLU and other rights groups have filed court complaints about the
      poor conditions and secretiveness of the detentions. The actions are
      pending and could be resolved in coming weeks. A protest is planned in
      front of MDC at noon on July 6.

      Court Keeps Terror Immigration Hearings Closed

      By James Vicini

      WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court handed the Justice
      Department a victory on Friday by keeping immigration hearings in cases
      stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorism investigation closed while the
      government appeals.

      It was the first time the high court acted in a case on the government's
      tactics adopted after the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks on the World
      Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed more than 3,000 people.

      The Supreme Court issued a stay of an order by a federal judge in New
      Jersey that the hearings must be open to the public. The Justice
      Department wanted a stay until a U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia
      decides its appeal.

      By granting the stay, the Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of
      the dispute. The case could return to the Supreme Court after the
      appeals court decides the government's appeal.

      The case arose from a directive issued just 10 days after Sept. 11
      ordering immigration judges to close hearings involving detainees whose
      cases were of "special interest" to the terrorism investigation.

      The Justice Department said more than 750 people have been detained on
      immigration violations during the Sept. 11 investigation. As of June 13,
      74 foreign nationals remained in detention on immigration-related


      The Justice Department argued that public disclosure of the hearings
      would jeopardize national security.

      But Chief U.S. District Judge John Bissell ruled in late May that the
      government could hold the hearings in secret only it if could prove that
      public access would harm the ongoing investigation.

      Both Bissell and the appeals court refused to give the government a stay
      of the ruling.

      The challenge to the closed hearings was brought by two news
      organizations, the New Jersey Law Journal and the North Jersey Media
      Group Inc. American Civil Liberties Union lawyers represented them.

      Solicitor General Theodore Olson of the Justice Department told the high
      court, "This is an extraordinary case, touching on the nation's very
      ability to defend itself against the continuing threat of hostile attack
      from myriad and unknown sources."

      He argued there was no general First Amendment right of access to
      immigration proceedings and said the closed hearing policy had been in
      effect for nine months.

      ACLU lawyers opposed the stay.

      "That an individual in this country could be deprived of his or her
      liberty in a secret, closed-door proceeding is an extraordinary
      proposition, one that finds no support in this court's caselaw or in
      history," they said.

      The lawyers said even the trials of individuals charged with terrorism,
      such as Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and accused shoe-bomber
      Richard Reid, are being held in open federal court.
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