Before the World Trade Center attack, Javaid Iqbal was a Pakistani immigrant proud to be known as "the cable guy" to customers on Long Island, where he had lived for a decade and married an American. Ehab Elmaghraby, an Egyptian, had a weekend flea market stand at Aqueduct Raceway and a restaurant near Times Square where friendly police officers would joke: "Where's my shish kebab?"
But within weeks of Sept. 11, 2001, both had been picked up by federal agents in an anti-terror sweep. For 23 hours a day, they were locked in solitary confinement in the harsh maximum-security unit of a federal detention center in Brooklyn -- the one cited by the Justice Department's inspector general last year for widespread physical abuse of its detainees.
The inspector general mentioned no specific names and cases, but now, in a federal lawsuit that was to be filed yesterday and in telephone interviews from Pakistan and Egypt, the former cable technician and the former restaurateur have provided the most detailed personal accounts yet of the unit's brutality and the first to accuse specific correction officers and wardens of abuse. The accusations are similar to those now being made against military officers guarding prisoners in Iraq.
The lawsuit charges that the men were repeatedly slammed into walls and dragged across the floor while shackled and manacled, kicked and punched until they bled, cursed as "terrorists" and "Muslim bastards" and subjected to multiple unnecessary body-cavity searches, including one during which correction officers inserted a flashlight into Elmaghraby's rectum, making him bleed.
At that point, the papers charge, he was confined without blankets, a mattress or toilet paper to a tiny cell kept lighted 24 hours a day, and was denied adequate medical care and communication with his public defender. He said his attempts to pray or sleep were disrupted by guards banging on his door.
"I was in life and I went to hell," Elmaghraby, 37, said in the interview. He spent almost a year in the special unit of the Metropolitan Detention Center, where the detention and treatment of hundreds of Muslim immigrants has since become the focus of concerns about the constitutionality of the Justice Department's counterterrorism offensive.
Elmaghraby was picked up on Sept. 30, 2001, in his apartment in Queens, when federal agents were investigating his Muslim landlord, apparently because the landlord had applied for pilot training.
No terror link
Iqbal was arrested in his Long Island apartment on Nov. 2 by agents who were apparently following a tip about false identification cards. In his apartment they found a Time magazine showing the trade towers in flames and paperwork showing that he had been in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, picking up a work permit from immigration services. He was detained for nine months before the FBI cleared him of any terrorist link.
Elmaghraby and Iqbal eventually pleaded guilty to minor federal criminal charges unrelated to terrorism -- Elmaghraby to credit card fraud, Iqbal to having false papers and bogus checks -- but they maintain now that they did so only to escape the abuse. They were deported after serving prison terms.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Traci Billingsley, said she could not comment on their lawsuit, which names as defendants Attorney General John Ashcroft; Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, the former head of the Bureau of Prisons; Michael Zenk, the warden of the detention center; more than a dozen correction officers and supervisors; and a jail doctor.