Black Hole in Brooklyn
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
confinementfor 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 othersperhaps 50 or more, according to lawyerswere
similarly confined. "Through the small window, I saw the guards taking
others," he said. And he heard rumors that other detainees were
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
borderbefore 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
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
NATIONAL SECURITY SAID AT STAKE
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.