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A new government report reveals that officers at a federal detention center in Brooklyn routinely violated the law by taping conversations between attorneys and defendants who were detained in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The report, issued last week by the office of Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, details a series of potential and clear civil rights abuses at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park in the months following the attacks, including unwarranted strip searches and physical and verbal abuse. It also says prison guards and officials were less than cooperative in the office’s investigation and may have tried to hide videotapes from investigators. It recommended discipline for several detention center employees. The U.S. Department of Justice responded to the report by asking federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to review the findings for possible criminal prosecutions. When a first draft of the report was released over the summer, Eastern District prosecutors and the Justice Department decided there was no cause for criminal prosecution. But since that report was issued, the inspector general’s office visited the detention center and discovered 308 videotapes in a storage room. They were clearly marked but had been left off an inventory list provided by detention center staff. “There is new evidence that was not available the first time we asked [Eastern District prosecutors] to look at it,” Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said in an interview. Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the report was “full of stunning revelations.” “It’s stunning that the Bureau of Prisons would allow this to go on and we need to find out who is responsible,” said Lieberman, adding that she was displeased with the Justice Department’s response. In a statement about the report, the department said the alleged abuses were perpetrated by “a small number of guards.” But to Lieberman, the report details pervasive abuse by guards and in many cases their supervisors. “We have gross, glaring physical and emotional abuse and rights violations that just cannot be tolerated,” Lieberman said. She said Congress should hold hearings on how the detention center was operated and how such events were allowed to take place. In a phone message, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons referred all questions to the Justice Department. The inspector general’s report said his office had found more than 40 examples of staff members videotaping attorneys as they visited detainees. On many of those tapes, the words of both the detainees and the attorneys were clear. The tapes apparently were made intentionally, the report said, and in one instance an officer instructed a detainee to speak to his attorney in English, rather than Arabic, because the visit was being taped. On some tapes, the report said, guards are seen lingering outside attorney visiting rooms, apparently listening to conversations. Although Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a directive in October 2001 that permitted monitoring of attorney-inmate meetings under limited circumstances, the inspector general’s report said these tapes were not made under that authority. Under the directive, the attorney general must approve the monitoring and notice has to be given to the inmate and the attorney. “Taping detainees’ attorney visits potentially stifled detainees’ open and free communications with legal counsel and discouraged them from making allegations against specific staff members,” the report said. The report concluded that “audio taping attorney visits violated the law and interfered with the detainees’ effective access to legal counsel.” One New York attorney who may have been videotaped said he was disturbed by the report and wanted to review the tapes himself. “Now that I know I may have been videotaped, I find it very disturbing, very disconcerting,” said Bryan Lonegan, an immigration attorney and a 14-year veteran of the Legal Aid Society. “I don’t know if I was recorded. I want to find that out. I would like to think that I have at least some right to [the tapes] since I might have been one of the people being recorded.” Lonegan interviewed 15 detainees from late October through Dec. 31, 2001. He said other Legal Aid attorneys interviewed another 15 detainees and, like him, referred their names to the Association of the Bar of the City of New York for legal representation. He said he saw no instances of physical abuse during his visits, though some detainees complained to him about such incidents. For the most part, he said, they complained about not being allowed to sleep. Lonegan said he was never denied access to the facility as long as he gave guards the name of a detainee he wanted to see. In the room where detainees were interviewed, a video camera was mounted on a tripod, Lonegan said. Attorneys would sit across from detainees, divided by a glass partition with a grate to speak through. The camera, he said, was set at an angle to focus on all four interview rooms, which were adjacent to each other. “It was right there on a tripod pointing right at us,” Lonegan said. “We would ask if it was on or if it was recording interviews, and [the guards] would say no.” PHYSICAL ABUSE The inspector general’s report also recounted numerous instances, many caught on tape, of abuse, including slamming detainees against walls, stepping on their leg chains, twisting their arms and elbows, subjecting them to strip searches as punishment for behavior, threatening them and calling them “terrorists,” “scumbags” and other epithets. When detainees entered the detention center, guards would often slam them into a wall and push their faces up against a T-shirt bearing an American flag and the phrase “These colors don’t run,” the report said. Many staff members denied the existence of the T-shirt, the report said, but videotapes showed some of these same guards holding detainees up to the shirt. One lieutenant who said he took the T-shirt down five times and felt uncomfortable with it is shown on videotape pushing a detainee’s face into the shirt, the report said. In all, 84 detainees were confined in the Brooklyn detention center on immigration charges. Many of them were classified as “high interest” and placed in the Special Housing Unit, the facility’s most secure and isolated wing. The lights were kept on 24 hours a day until at least February 2002, and detainees complained that guards kicked their cell doors at night to keep them from sleeping. Detainees say they were prevented from praying and kept from making phone calls to family or attorneys. Nancy Chang, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the report strengthens a lawsuit filed by her organization on behalf of the detainees. The suit, Turkmen v. Ashcroft, CV 02-2307, is awaiting a ruling on a motion to dismiss before Eastern District Judge John Gleeson. Chang said Inspector General Fine deserved credit for showing independence from his parent agency, the Justice Department. “This report shows he has great tenacity,” she said.

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