A long-awaited Justice Department report examining the treatment of hundreds of foreigners detained in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks criticizes immigration and law-enforcement authorities as being indifferent to civil rights in the frenzied effort to investigate suspects and to avoid another catastrophe, people familiar with the report said.
The report, prepared by the Office of Inspector General, the department’s internal watchdog, is expected to be released on Monday, following months of interviews examining allegations by civil rights groups and private attorneys that those detained were deprived of their rights.
The complaints, ranging from alleged beatings to reported violations of established immigration-law practices, have sparked a number of lawsuits against the government.
The report focuses on two facilities alleged to be at the center of the problems -- the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal facility operated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and the Passaic County Jail in Paterson, N.J.
One conclusion, according to one Justice Department official who requested anonymity, is that several dozen people were held beyond the customary 90-day Immigration and Naturalization Service deadline for deporting or releasing detainees.
The official said that, in some cases, the report concludes that the delays were the product of bureaucratic bungling, with people “lost in the cracks.” But the official also said that some violations may have been “deliberate,” with officials, bent on rooting out terrorists, consciously refusing to release people. “Obviously, however it happened,” the official said, “that will be a very, very serious conclusion.”
The government has been secretive about the number of detainees, long refusing to release the names and identities of those it has held. Initially, officials estimated that as many as 1,200 people were rounded up after the terrorist attacks in 2001, but more recently, they have suggested in court that the number is in the range of 600 or 700.
Of those detained, nearly all were eventually deported, and a handful were criminally charged. Last week, Justice Department officials disclosed that about 50 were detained under a law that enables federal prosecutors to hold “material witnesses” in terrorism cases.
Spokesmen for the Justice Department and for its inspector general declined to comment on the report’s findings.
Civil rights and immigrant groups said that what they knew of the report vindicated their concerns.
“From all accounts, the IG report will show that the war on terror quickly turned into a war on immigrants,” asserted Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups that has sued over the detentions. “The government policy of preventive detention violated the civil liberties of immigrants who had no connection to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.”
Martin Stolar, a New York lawyer who represented several of the detainees, said his clients were held in solitary confinement, in some cases for months at a time. Eventually, they were all deported, on offenses such as using a false passport, he said.
“The U.S. lost some very, very valuable potential immigrants,” Stolar said.