FBI detains more than 1000

"Disappeared" in the USA

Revolutionary Worker #1126, November 11, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

"We have Arab men disappearing from the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. No one hears from them. No one hears about them. They're arrested and they disappear. Is it secret evidence? Whose secret is this? Why? What's going on? We'd like to know."

Samia Halaby, from Al-Awda
(Palestinian Right to Return Coalition),
at a New York City press conference for
October 22nd National Day of Protest

"The secret detention of [hundreds of] people over the past few weeks is frighteningly close to the practice of 'disappearing' people in Latin America."

Kate Martin, director of Center
for National Security Studies

A Middle Eastern man who voluntarily went to the FBI to answer questions didn't come home. For two weeks his family didn't know where he was. Finally he was able to make a phone call to let them know he was alive. He is still being held. A group of Pakistani immigrants spent three weeks in the Brooklyn federal prison before they were allowed to make a phone call. These are only a few of the people who have been caught in the net of massive arrests and detention by the U.S. government in the aftermath of September 11.

When many people hear the term "the disappeared," they think of the reactionary regimes in Central and South American countries. Tens of thousands of people have been abducted by the troops and death squads of these U.S.-backed regimes--and then never heard from again. The stories of the "Mothers of the Disappeared" in Argentina have become known throughout the world.

Now there are "disappeared" in the U.S.--people who have been snatched off the streets by agents of the U.S. government, held incommunicado, put in solitary confinement, denied lawyers.

As of November 3, the number of people who have been arrested by the federal government in its "investigation" of the September 11 attacks was reportedly about 1,150. The exact number is not known, since the government refuses to divulge that information.

The government has refused to reveal the identities, nationalities, and whereabouts of the detained people, or what particular charges they are being held on. What little information is known about their situation has come mainly from family members, friends, attorneys, and some media reports. They have been moved from prison to prison. Bail has been denied, hearings have been held in secret, and court documents have been sealed. Many have been held for weeks without being charged.

According to the Boston Globe, which compiled a partial list of the detained by calling various embassies, most of the detained are Saudis and Egyptians. There are also detainees from United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Jordan, Pakistan, India, Morocco, Mauritania and El Salvador.

As we go to press, the media is reporting government claims that many of those arrested since September 11 have been released. But since the government will not release information about the detained, it's impossible to confirm the reports. And clearly, the government continues to round up more people.

One of the biggest law enforcement operations in American history is shrouded by a veil of secrecy. Human rights and civil liberties organizations have tried without success to get information about those arrested. Lawyers have been subjected to "gag" orders that prevent them from discussing anything about their clients. Many lawyers have not been allowed to keep copies of confidential court records. Others have been unable to locate people they are trying to represent.

Law enforcement authorities justify all this by saying the mass arrests have "prevented further attacks"--but they have provided no evidence to back this claim up.

Government officials say publicly that they oppose the targeting of Arab and Muslim people. But given the mass detentions and other repressive measures, racial profiling and collective punishment of Arab and Muslim people have effectively become government policy. And this in turn has created an ugly climate of racist attacks on Arab, Muslim, and other people. The government's call for people to come forward with "tips" on "suspicious" people have led to immigrants being turned in to authorities by wanna-be FBI agents.

The government admits that only a small handful of those arrested are "material witnesses"--people who allegedly have information about September 11. About 200 others were arrested on immigration violations. The rest were arrested for allegedly violating federal, state and local laws unrelated to September 11--most on minor charges on which they normally would have been quickly released on bail.

Stories of "The Disappeared"

Many of those arrested have been moved to federal prisons in the New York area. At Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), many immigrants have been held in solitary confinement with no access to phones, reading materials, or other prisoners. Attorney Randall Hamud told Time magazine that three of his clients at MCC were kept shackled and strip searched twice a day. There are reports that immigrants detained at MCC have been beaten by guards. A Saudi man who was arrested on minor immigration violations was kept in legirons. Guards kicked another prisoner's door all night so he couldn't sleep. Muslim prisoners have been prevented from performing religious practices.

One Saudi man, Al-Badr Al-Hazmi, was arrested, taken from his home in San Antonio, Texas, brought to the MCC, and held as a material witness for 13 days. FBI agents questioned him repeatedly, screamed at him, and kicked him in his back. He was unable to call his lawyer for six days. Eventually he was let go--with no explanation or apology. Al-Hazmi is a fourth-year radiology resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center--but he may be unable to return to work because media reports falsely claimed he was connected to the hijackers, and some people at his job have made it clear he is no longer welcome. What made Al-Hazmi a "suspect"? He has the same last name as one of the hijackers, he made airline reservations for his family over the Internet, and he received a phone call from one of Osama bin Laden's brothers (the bin Laden family broke ties with Osama bin Laden years ago).

Yazeed Al-Salmi, a 23-year-old student from Saudi Arabia, was arrested and questioned because he allegedly knew one of the hijackers. He was held for three weeks in solitary confinement at MCC. He said the guards at MCC refused to call him by name: "They call you a 'fucking terrorist.'" After his release, Al-Salmi found he had been evicted from his apartment.

Other stories have begun to surface from around the country. A 20-year-old Pakistani student was stripped and beaten by other prisoners while guards stood by in a Mississippi prison. Egyptian immigrant Hady Omar Jr. has been held for almost two months on immigration violations at a federal prison in Louisiana. His "crime"? He made an airline reservation from the same Kinkos in Florida as one of the hijackers.

Ali Al-Maqtari is being held without bond in a Tennessee prison. On September 15, he and his wife Tiffinay drove to the gates of the army base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, so Tiffinay could report for active duty. Al-Maqtari was arrested after police searched the car and found two box cutters, papers written in Arabic, and postcards of New York City. Al-Maqtari's lawyer says he used the box cutters in a recent move and had just visited his uncle in New York. Though authorities acknowledge he had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks, Al-Maqtari remains in prison on charges that he overstayed his visa.

Attorney Dennis Clare told the Los Angeles Times that 40 men from Mauritania (a country in western Africa) were arrested near Cincinnati for immigration violations. Like many immigrants, they had fled their country to escape repression and brutality in their country--only to get caught up in the same situation here in the U.S. They became "suspects" because one of them allegedly knows how to fly planes. Of the 40, three are still detained. Clare has been unable to meet with them because the authorities keep moving them.

Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and Justice Department spokespeople have repeatedly claimed that those arrested have been told of their right to a lawyer and been given lists of legal organizations. But family members and attorneys say people have been held for weeks and not allowed a phone call. And the lists the detainees are given contain organizations that do not provide the type of legal assistance they need.

Mohammed Rafiq Butt was a 55-year-old immigrant from Pakistan who worked as a waiter in a Queens, New York restaurant to support five children back in Pakistan. Based on a "tip" that people were living "illegally" in a building, police arrested Rafiq Butt and two roommates, also Pakistanis. The authorities admit he had no connection to the September 11 attacks. But he was held in jail for over a month for an expired visa. On October 23, Rafiq Butt was found dead in his New Jersey cell. The medical examiner declared he died of heart failure.

The authorities clearly plan to intensify their attacks on Arab and Muslim people and immigrants in general. The New York Times reported on Nov. 1 that "[U.S. Attorney General] Ashcroft offered a detailed explanation of the government's 'spitting on the sidewalk' policy, in which immigrants suspected of terrorist ties are apprehended for even minor, unrelated charges, just so long as they are taken off the street." The government has announced a much tighter visa policy against immigrants entering the country. And tucked within the new "anti-terrorism law" just signed by Bush is a provision that could require people without U.S. citizenship to get computerized ID cards when entering this country.

Law enforcement authorities are openly debating the use of torture to extract information from those they've arrested. An article in the October 21 Washington Post revealed: "Among the alternative strategies under discussion are using drugs or pressure tactics, such as those employed occasionally by Israeli interrogators, to extract information. Another idea is extraditing the suspects to allied countries where security services sometimes employ threats to family members or resort to torture."

A New Level of Repression

As David Cole of the Center for Constitutional Rights points out, "This country has a long tradition of responding to fear by stifling dissent, punishing association, launching widespread political spying and seeking shortcuts around the Constitution. Few Americans opposed the imprisonment of anti-war dissenters during World War I, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II or the anti-Communist laws of the McCarthy era."

In the 1960s, the U.S. government targeted political activists in the now famous COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program)--which resulted in the murder of members of the Black Panther Party and other political activists as well as the unjust imprisonment of hundreds of people.

In the late 1970s, the government launched a massive surveillance campaign against over 1,000 organizations that opposed U.S. policy in Latin America. The Rex 84 program, developed under the Reagan administration, planned to turn former army bases and other sites into concentration camps for the mass detention of immigrants crossing the Mexican border as well as anti-government forces in this country.

The U.S. government is now putting into place and carrying out a new and highly intense level of repression against the people. So far, the repressive offensive has been especially focused at immigrants, Arab and Muslim people in particular. But dangerous precedents are being set for even broader and harsher assaults on the rights of the people. And the new "anti-terrorism law" (known officially as "The USA Patriot Act") gives the government unprecedented powers to spy on and arrest people.

On October 29, a coalition of civil liberties, human rights and electronic privacy organizations filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information about the people who have been arrested in the government's September 11 investigation. The 24 organizations included the ACLU, American Muslim Council, Amnesty International USA, Arab American Institute, Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, Center for Constitutional Rights, Council on American Islamic Relations, the Federation of American Scientists, and Human Rights Watch. Over 150 organizations, 300 law professors and 40 computer scientists have signed a statement titled "In Defense of Freedom" that opposes targeting of Arab and Muslim people.

The U.S. government is forging ahead with its repressive agenda and aiming to silence opposition to their plans. It is up to the people to make sure this does not happen.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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