Nearly 600 detained
Widespread violations of civil liberties in US dragnet
By Kate Randall
6 October 2001
Since the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) have detained or arrested 580 people in connection
with the Justice Departments investigation of the September 11 events.
More than 350 of these individuals remain in custody as a result of the
most extensive dragnet in US criminal history.
Although the Justice Department is releasing little information about the
individuals being held, none of them has been publicly charged in
connection with the terror attacks. FBI Director Robert Mueller told the
press that about half of those being detained are in INS custody for
immigration violations, such as expired visas or false identification. The
rest are in either state or federal law enforcement custody as material
witnesses, or have been charged with a variety of unrelated criminal
The declaration of a national emergency by President Bush following the
terror attacks has enabled the government to detain indefinitely many of
those who have been rounded up. This week Congress moved closer to passage
of anti-terrorism legislation that will provide sweeping new powers to the
government and law enforcement agencies. In the name of waging a war on
terrorism, the bill poses grave threats to democratic rights, including
provisions allowing for the indefinite detention of non-citizens, erosion
of protections against illegal search and seizure, and loosening of
restrictions on government wiretapping and other electronic surveillance.
The stories of some of those picked up by the government since September
11 paint a chilling picture of an investigation that has trampled on the
civil liberties of people shown to have no connection to the hijacking
attacks. The majority of the detainees are of Middle Eastern descent. Some
have been taken into custody because they lived in the same apartment
buildings as the hijackers. Some have phone numbers or names similar to
those found in the personal belongings of the suspected terrorists. Many
were found to have minor legal or visa problems when stopped and
questioned by federal agents.
Surveillance warrants approved by secret court
Many of the requests for surveillance by the FBI, the CIA and the National
Security Agency of suspected terrorists and spies are being processed by a
secret court created in 1978 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act (FISA). The FISA court is a seven-member body appointed by the US
Supreme Court, which meets every other week for two days in a soundproof
conference room at the Justice Department. The Court approves secret
intelligence-gathering warrants at the request of these law enforcement
agencies, and uses a lower criterion for approval than the probable cause
standard applied in other criminal matters. The target of the requested
warrant is not represented at the courts hearings. It has not been made
public how many secret warrants the FISA court has issued since September
Tremendous secrecy surrounds the legal proceedings involving those picked
up by the government in the investigation. In some cases, detainees own
lawyers have been left in the dark about the questioning of their clients
or the charges against them. New York criminal defense lawyer Gerald
Lefcourt told the Wall Street Journal, Not since World War II and the
internment of the Japanesewhich we have conceded was illegalhave we picked
up so many people and held them on secret evidence. We dont know why some
are released and some are detained. Under US law, INS agents do not need a
warrant to arrest non-citizens, and immigration courts are not required to
provide lawyers for suspects who cant afford them.
Dr. Al Badr Al Hazmi, a Saudi Arabian radiologist, was one of those
rounded up and detained in the governments investigation. Federal agents
armed with search warrants banged on the door of his San Antonio home at
5:00 a.m. on September 12. Dr. Al Hazmi was taken into custody on alleged
immigration violations and flown to New York, where he was held in a
prison in downtown Manhattan for 14 days. He has since been officially
cleared as a suspect in the terrorist attacks, but his attorney, Sean
OShea, told the Journal that he was not at liberty to disclose what
happened to Al Hazmi because of a federal court order to that effect.
Ali Maqtari, a 50-year old Pakistani immigrant, was also taken into
custody for questioning on September 12. Maqtari, a French teacher from
New Haven Connecticut, was driving his American-born wife to basic
training at a US Army base in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Tiffinay Nicole
Maqtari was wearing a veil, having adopted her husbands Muslim traditions.
When the couple arrived at her new barracks, Army officers and agents from
the FBI and INS took Mr. Maqtari in for questioning.
Ali Maqtaris attorney Michael Boyle told the Washington Post that the
agents subsequently informed his client that there was no evidence
connecting him to the September 11 attacks. But he is still being held on
a $50,000 bond in a Tennessee jail on immigration violations. Its scary to
me that this list of people theyve picked up included people like him,
Boyle told the Post. I cant imagine how hes at all relevant to the
According to another report in the Post, the FBI carried out a raid in the
early morning hours of September 26 on the Metuchen, New Jersey home of
Syed Asif, a 50-year-old Pakistani immigrant. Federal agents had
reportedly received a phone tip that, following the September 11 attacks,
one of Asifs neighbors had been dancing and celebrating at the gas station
next door to the rooming house where Asif lived. Jagdis Deol, the owner of
the both the gas station and the rooming house, denied the report when
local police came by the station several days later.
At around 5:45 a.m. on September 26, FBI agents beat down the doors of the
rooming house. Their guns drawn, they ordered everyone onto the floor.
Syed Asif said he and several other men were handcuffed while the agents
rifled through their belongings. They were then taken to local police
headquarters where the FBI agents inspected their identification
documents. After it was determined that Asif was a naturalized American
citizen, the agents removed his handcuffs. They asked him to translate as
they questioned his neighbor, who confessed to having a false New Jersey
license. Although they were all subsequently released, Asif said he does
not know what has become of his neighbor who worked at the gas station.
Many people have been interrogated or detained although there is no
credible reason to connect them to the suspected hijackers. Brothers Anwar
and Aman Montaser, US citizens of Yemeni descent, were questioned by FBI
agents in New York City. They were not detained following their
interrogation, but were fired soon thereafter by the Brooklyn public
schools where they worked as custodians.
Raid Abdelkarin is a physician who lives in Los Angeles. He was born in
Santa Monica, California to Palestinian parents, and has written many
newspaper opinion pieces criticizing US support for Israel. He was taken
in for questioning by FBI agents, and his wife and boss were also later
Abdelkarin said the agents began their interrogation by asking him about
his political views. He told the Washington Post, I felt like I was in a
B-movie, with this guy holding a folder marked SECRET. I started to say, I
speak as an American, and like most American Muslims I was horrified by
this, but they didnt want to hear that.
On Wednesday night, Senate Democrats and the Bush administration reached
agreement on provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001. The legislation
has been rushed through Congress, with the Democrats agreeing to most of
the proposals of Attorney General John Ashcroft, with only minor
revisions. The House and Senate are expected to pass separate versions of
the bill next week, which must then be reconciled.
In the days following the September 11 attacks, Ashcroft vigorously
campaigned for the new legislation, declaring, Talk will not prevent
terrorism. We need to have action by Congress. The attorney general cited
the imminent threat of another terrorist attack in an effort to stampede
passage of the bill. Jerry Berman, director of the Center for Democracy
and Technology, commented, People are being told that if they do not sign
onto this bill they will be blamed for the next terrorist act.
In fact, many of the provisions of the new legislation are curbs on civil
liberties and constitutional protections that were sought by both
Republicans and Democrats long before the attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon.
In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Anti-Terrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act, which included a stepped-up deportation
process for immigrants and allowed courts to use secret evidence in
deportation hearings. It stopped short, however, of giving federal agents
the right to use wiretaps that follow a person instead of a specific wired
phone line, a provision that will be included in the new bill. The new
legislation also broadens the authority of law enforcement agencies to
seek not only the phone records of suspected terrorists, but also records
of Internet connections, such as e-mail, and cellular phones.
One section of the bill gives the government authority to seek judicial
approval to conduct secret searches of suspects. With judicial approval,
federal agents could search a persons property without giving notice for
90 days, or even longer. This violates Fourth Amendment guarantees against
unreasonable searches and seizures, including a requirement that the
government obtain a warrant and inform a person of the search before it
proceeds. This new legislation would apply to all criminal cases, not only
those designated as terrorism investigations.
The Bush administrations version of the bill would have permitted the
indefinite jailing of non-citizens suspected of terrorist offenses. The
compromise bill reached in the Senate limits the detention of such
suspects to seven days, after which they would have to be charged or
released. They could still be held longer, however, under certain narrow
circumstances, according to Senate sources.
The bill would also allow law enforcement and intelligence agencies to
share wiretap and grand jury information without receiving a court order.
The Bush administration had also sought to relax legal standards covering
wiretaps in intelligence-gathering cases.
Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, looser standards have
been applied in cases where intelligence gathering is the primary purpose.
Ashcroft had wanted these standards to apply when intelligence is simply a
purpose. Senate Democrats compromised on this by saying the less
restricted standards could be used when intelligence gathering constitutes
a significant purpose in a case.
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