In the wake of recent criticism of President George W. Bush for crossing constitutional boundaries by allowing programs like the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping without warrants, the case of brothers Yasser and Hany Ibrahim, two of six detainees returning to fight a class-action lawsuit, could not have come at a more opportune time for the the president.
They are charging top government officials with the claim that they were ‘abused and deprived of due process due to their religion or national origin.’
Their case is but another addition to the already mounting scrutiny stacked against the government, all of which asks the same question: Where exactly is the line drawn between effective counterterrorism and individual liberty in the United States?
According to the lawsuit, at 2:00 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2001, terrorism investigators questioned and then took Yasser and Hany Ibrahim from their apartment in New York.
They were among the 100 noncitizens, rounded up and placed in a federal detention center in Brooklyn after Sept.11 to be examined as ‘persons of interest.’ Although an FBI memo stated that were cleared of any link to terrorism on Dec. 7, they were kept in custody for eight months.
It was here that they were subject to daily physical and verbal abuse, placed in solitary confinement and denied their right to communicate with their families and lawyers.
As the lawsuit claims, ‘Escort teams cursed them as Muslims and terrorists, slammed them into every available wall when they were taken from their cells, twisted their wrists and fingers, and stepped on their leg chains so that they fell, their ankles bruised and bloody.’
Additionally, a 2003 report by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General discovered from videotape evidence that some of the center’s staff had also ‘misused strip searches and restraints to punish detainees.’
As news of this surfaced, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has reportedly fired two people, demoted an additional two, and placed six on suspension for the conduct misuse.
However, Matthew Strugar, an attorney from the Center for Constitutional rights handling the case, is not satisfied. ‘We believe the responsibility for these abuses goes further up the chain of command at the Bureau of Prisons and we are disappointed more individuals have not yet been held accountable.’
Thus, the plantiffs hope to receive compensatory and punitive damages, their confiscated personal property returned and the detentions declared unwarranted and illegal.
Although they are returning solely for the case, the men will be watched by federal marshals around the clock and prohibited from any contact with personnel outside of the case.
These measures are harsh considering no link has been found between the plantiffs and terrorism has been found and they have been put through enough punishment the first time around.
I for one respect the government’s tightened regulations and understand that, to a reasonable extent, drastic circumstances call for drastic measures.
I realize that there is a cost to every individual liberty that must be paid in order to ensure the collective security of the United States.
But when the government has the power to stamp ‘person of interest’ on any individual, my understanding runs dry.
The U.S. Patriot Act allows noncitizens to be detained without charge and held indefinitely once charged, given ‘reasonable grounds.’
But since when did ‘reasonable grounds’ become so elastic as to allow government behavioral misconducts to slip through the cracks?
This case brings into light the values and individual rights side-stepped to accommodate the initial fear terrorism brought us, lest we forget it isn’t a domestic battle we are fighting.
Amy Nguyen is a second-year English major.