Sat, Dec 20, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Migrants abused in prison

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

Federal prison officers in Brooklyn physically and verbally abused immigrants detained after the Sept. 11 attacks, slamming them against the wall and painfully twisting their arms and hands, the US Justice Department's inspector general said on Thursday.

Inspector General Glenn Fine said in a 47-page report that officers also stepped on the leg-restraint chains of the detainees and punished them by keeping them restrained for long periods of time.

Videotapes showed that prison staff members slammed and pressed detainees against the wall by their heads or necks. The officers denied that it ever occurred, the report said.

Videotapes also confirmed that officers placed detainees against an American flag T-shirt with the phrase "These colors don't run" on it, which was taped to the wall in the area where they first arrived, according to the report.

It said the tapes also showed that some staff members misused strip searches and restraints to punish detainees, and officers improperly recorded meetings between the detainees and their lawyers.

Fine said prison officials during the course of the investigation repeatedly said videotapes of detainee movements no longer existed. That information was wrong, and investigators discovered more than 300 videotapes.

The inspector general recommended disciplinary action against 10 current employees of the US Bureau of Prisons. It said the way the officers handled some detainees was unprofessional, inappropriate and violated bureau policy.

Federal prosecutors previously had declined to bring criminal charges against the officers. But after the discovery of the videotapes, prosecutors were told to review the report and determine whether any prosecutions would be appropriate.

The report was a follow up to one released in June, which found "significant problems" in how authorities handled the 762 foreigners detained in cities around the US for immigration violations during the investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Most, if not all, of the 762 detainees have been released and have been deported. A total of 84 aliens had been confined in the Brooklyn facility on immigration charges in the 11 months after the attacks.

The new report focused only on the prison in Brooklyn, where 30 detainees alleged they had been physically and verbally abused by about 20 staff members.

The report found evidence that about 16 to 20 staff members violated Bureau of Prison policy by abusing the detainees. The verbal abuse included insults, coarse language and threats of physical harm or punishment.

"We did not find that the detainees were brutally beaten," the report said.

Democratic Representatives John Conyers and Jerrold Nadler said in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft that they were deeply troubled by the report and said it demanded his immediate action.

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