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New tapes show abuse of 911 detainees { December 19 2003 }

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New tapes show abuse of 9/11 detainees, U.S. official says
Dan Eggen, Washington Post

Published December 19, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Hundreds of videotapes that federal prison officials had claimed were destroyed show that foreign nationals held at a New York City detention center after the Sept. 11 attacks were physically and verbally abused by guards, the Justice Department's inspector general said Thursday.

An investigation by Inspector General Glenn Fine also found that officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center in the borough of Brooklyn -- run by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons -- improperly taped meetings between detainees and their lawyers and used excessive strip searches and restraints as punishments.

The report concluded that as many as 20 guards were involved in the abuse, which included slamming prisoners against walls and painfully twisting their arms and hands. Fine recommended discipline for 10 guards and counseling for two others who remain in the federal prison system. He said the government also should notify the employers of four former guards about their conduct.

One focus of the report was an American flag T-shirt -- with the slogan "These colors don't run" -- that hung from a wall at the detention center. Four corrections employees told investigators that the shirt was covered with bloodstains, including some that appeared to have come from detainees being slammed into the wall.

A report issued by Fine in June found "a pattern of physical and verbal abuse" at the detention center's Special Housing Unit, where 84 of the men picked up after Sept. 11 were held. But investigators said at the time that it was impossible to reach firm conclusions about abuse because of the lack of videotapes, which prison administrators said had been destroyed.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo said Thursday that federal prosecutors in Brooklyn and in the department's Civil Rights Division were reviewing the report to determine whether criminal charges were warranted now.

A federal dragnet after the Sept. 11 attacks resulted in the detention of more than 1,200 foreign nationals. Most were of Arab or South Asian descent and were held on immigration violations as part of a directive from Attorney General John Ashcroft while authorities attempted to determine whether they were connected to the attacks or terrorist groups. None was ever charged with terrorism-related crimes.

Many of the incidents of abuse were confirmed when investigators viewed more than 300 videotapes recorded from October to November 2001 that showed detainees being moved around the facility and within their cells, investigators said.

Corrections officers who had been interviewed earlier had denied that many of the incidents occurred. Warden Michael Zenk and other officials repeatedly told Fine's investigators that the videotapes had been destroyed as part of a recycling policy, the report said.

The tapes eventually were located in August in a storage room that had not been disclosed to investigators, the report said. Many tapes from the period are still missing, and there are unexplained gaps in footage of the ones that were found, the report said.

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