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An Egyptian student who was wrongly accused of possessing an aviation radio in a hotel room overlooking the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 filed a $20 million lawsuit against an FBI polygraph examiner Thursday. Abdallah Higazy charged that FBI Special Agent Michael Templeton coerced him into making a false confession by threatening to have the U.S. government contact the Egyptian security services and make his family’s life in Egypt a “living hell.” Higazy, initially detained as a material witness in the terror investigation on Dec. 17, 2001, spent 31 days in solitary confinement. He was freed only after a security guard at the Millennium Hilton Hotel admitted he had lied when he told FBI agents he had found the radio in a locked safe in Higazy’s hotel room on the 51st floor. The lie was uncovered when another guest who had been evacuated from the hotel on Sept. 11, an airline pilot, returned to claim his possessions and demanded his radio back. The suit, filed by Higazy through his attorneys, Robert S. Dunn and Earl S. Ward, also names Hilton Hotels and former security guard Ronald Ferry, who was sentenced to serve six months behind bars, on weekends, after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. Ferry’s supervisor at the hotel, Stuart Yule, was also sued because he allegedly supported Ferry’s version of events to FBI agents even though Ferry purportedly told Yule he had “made the facts fit the case,” by claiming to have found the radio in Higazy’s safe. Standing with his client at a press conference outside of the court house at 500 Pearl St., Dunn said, “I believe the polygraph was abused and used as a ruse” as part of an “illegal interrogation” of Higazy. The false confession at issue followed a voluntary polygraph examination conducted by Special Agent Templeton on Dec. 27, 2001, in which Higazy purportedly showed “deception” when asked whether he was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks or had any knowledge of the plot. According to the government, in a post-polygraph interview with Templeton, Higazy admitted to owning the radio and gave three different versions of how he came to possess it, prompting the government to seek charges against the 31-year-old student. But Higazy claimed he only confessed to Templeton after the agent pounded the table and threatened his family. The emergence of the radio’s actual owner, and the revelation that Ferry had lied, prompted Southern District of New York Judge Jed S. Rakoff to prod the government into investigating how Higazy came to admit owning the radio. In two letters to the judge in October and November 2002, Deputy U.S. Attorney David Kelley said an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General cleared both Templeton and the other agents of any wrongdoing. Rakoff said in a Nov. 25 ruling that he accepted the report, and he ruled that his supervision over the matter would cease because Higazy had volunteered for the polygraph examination. ‘ENTIRELY UNANSWERED’ But the judge also said the report left “entirely unanswered” the question of “whether the Government’s continued reliance on such a doubtful investigatory tool as polygraph testing increases the possibility of false confessions.” The judge also wondered “whether there is any lawful basis for excluding a witness’s counsel from a ‘post-test’ interview by a polygrapher when the sole rationale for excluding counsel in the first place is that it will affect the test results.” Dunn fired back a letter to the judge in which he accused the government of conducting a self-serving investigation. He said the judge, by not ordering an evidentiary hearing on the matter, had permitted “the fox to guard the henhouse.” In his ruling, Rakoff also said “such conflicts as remain between Higazy’s and the Government’s accounts of what occurred in the polygrapher’s office must be resolved, if at all, outside this forum.” The new forum will be another judge in the Southern District, where Dunn said he is still weighing whether to sue the government. Dunn said at the press conference that he did not sue the other special agents involved in the Higazy case because, unlike the claim of intentional deprivation of constitutional rights by Templeton, the other agents could be accused, at best, of negligence. “This allows us to bypass the cumbersome procedures of the Federal Tort Claims Act,” Dunn said. Seeking $10 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages, a tearful Higazy said Thursday that he also wanted an apology from the government.

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