In rare move after courts denied justice, BOP provides funds for six men who were abused, racially and religiously profiled
July 5, New York – In a rare move, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has provided funds to a former warden to enable him to settle a lawsuit brought by a group of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men who were rounded up after 9/11. The men say Dennis Hasty, who at the time headed the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, allowed and encouraged abuse by guards under his supervision.
The case, which originally also sought accountability from high-level members of the George W. Bush administration, has evolved over two decades and was heard by the Supreme Court the day before Donald Trump took office. The Supreme Court's resulting decision significantly limited the rights of people seeking compensation for constitutional violations by federal officers, but remanded one claim – against Warden Hasty – to the lower courts. In 2021 the district court held that the men did not have a right to sue for their injuries, without even deciding whether Hasty violated the Constitution. With the prospect of obtaining justice slipping away, the plaintiffs were not in a position typically conducive to securing a settlement. BOP's unusual intervention, the plaintiffs' lawyers say, is due to plaintiffs' egregious mistreatment, the failure of the court system, and their unrelenting pursuit of justice.
According to the agreement, which was made public today, $98,000 will be split among the six plaintiffs: Ahmer Iqbal Abbasi, Anser Mehmood, Benamar Benatta, Ahmed Khalifa, Saeed Hammouda, and Purna Raj Bajracharya. Although not an admission of guilt, the agreement includes a letter to each individual from BOP director Michael Caraval in which he acknowledges that the Department of Justice determined that "detainees were held in excessively restrictive and unduly harsh conditions of confinement and a number of individuals were physically and verbally abused by certain MDC officers."
"I am glad that the case is coming to an end after two decades of litigation. However, it is a bittersweet conclusion for me," said Mr. Benatta. "I don't believe justice is properly served, considering the detrimental consequences the defendants' actions have had on my life. I can't help but feel let down by the whole judicial system – federal courts had the opportunity to remedy the situation but chose not to intervene, and, by doing so, they left the door open for future mistreatment and abuse to take place without any ramifications."
The Center for Constitutional Rights, Covington & Burling LLP, and attorneys Michael Winger and Alexander Reinert represent the six plaintiffs, who are only some of the dozens of men held in solitary confinement for months at the MDC even though they were only charged with civil immigration violations such as overstaying a visa. Though the government had no legitimate reason to consider them dangerous, it held them as "suspected terrorists" in a super-max housing unit until they were deported.
Among other documented abuses, including beatings, forced sleep deprivation, and racial and religious slurs, many of the victims had their faces smashed into a wall where guards had pinned a t-shirt with a picture of an American flag and the words "These colors don't run." The men were slammed against the t-shirt upon their entrance to MDC and told "welcome to America." The t-shirt, smeared with blood, stayed on the wall for months.
Hasty, who referred to the detained men as "terrorists" in memos, avoided witnessing the abuse by not making required rounds and tried to deny victims of abuse the means to file internal complaints. Complaints were lodged, however, and led to investigations by federal agencies. In response, the Bureau of Prisons instituted a policy of videotaping all 9/11 detainee transports. The videos, later included in a report by the Inspector General, showed the guards stepping on men's restraints, twisting their hands behind their backs, and otherwise abusing them. Still, Hasty failed to take any steps to protect them.
"I'm so grateful that our clients will finally have closure in this twenty-year struggle, but we shouldn't mistake it for justice," said Rachel Meeropol, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. "There is no question that these men and many others were subjected to egregiously unconstitutional treatment in a federal facility by federal employees, and yet they have been barred from seeking justice in the federal courts. This is a broken system that requires immediate attention by Congress."
The case began as Turkmen v. Ashcroft, a class action lawsuit, and the defendants included then Attorney General John Ashcroft and then FBI Director Robert Mueller. In 2017, the Supreme Court heard the case under the name Ziglar v. Abbasi. Plaintiffs' appeal of the district court's dismissal is pending in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals; under the settlement, the parties have jointly asked for that appeal to be dismissed.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.