Department of Justice report bolsters 9/11 detainees’ case against Ashcroft

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Attorney General Ashcroft brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights include Akil Sachdeva, a native of India, who was detained for three and a half months after a judge ordered his deportation to Canada.

“Mr. Sachdeva’s story is typical of all plaintiffs in this case,” said William Goodman, lead counsel in this case and the Center’s legal director. “Since September 11th, defendants in this case have used immigration laws as a pretext to circumvent constitutional rights.”

There is more irony than meets the eye in a case where an internal Department of Justice report is used to strengthen a class action suit against it. Civil rights lawyers claim that many details highlighted in the report were previously unknown to them.

“It unveils information that will help us in our lawsuit,” said Nancy Chang, a senior litigation attorney with the Center. “We will amend our complaint after additional abuses have been discovered. The report reveals ways in which the detainees’constitutional rights were routinely violated.”

Some new information in Inspector General Glenn A. Fine’s report includes, “a blanket no-bond policy, communication black out [and] assignment to a special housing unit,” says Chang.

Another case against the attorney general—in the Court of Appeals—has been filed by the Center for National Security Studies (CNSS) based in Washington, D.C.

It seeks to make mandatory the release of information about detainees such as their name and the reason for detention.

The report says that this was not always done.

“Fine’s report established in very clear terms that there was widespread abuse of the detainees,” said Sarah Margon, a CNSS policy analyst.

“It does fall short of mentioning the detainees were kept in secret. But we applaud the report for its indepth analysis and hope this is not the end of the investigation.”

The seven plaintiffs in the Center’s case are natives from countries in Asia and the Middle East. “Akil Sachdev is not a Muslim and he is not from Pakistan,” Chang said. “How do you explain that?”

Sachdeva, who is now in Canada, could not be reached for comment.

Vijay Bondada, president of the South Asian Bar Association in New York, agrees that the violation of constitutional rights “should concern everybody equally.” The report identified 29 detainees from India, France, Britain and Canada.

“Once you allow infringement of rights for one person, there is nothing to stop it from happening to another person,” Bondada said. [This situation] is like that for Japanese detainees during the Second World War.”

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