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A Deliberate Strategy of Disruption: Secrecy and Confusion Surround the U.S. Government'sroundup of More Than 1,000 Potential Terror Suspects

November 06, 2001

An article that ran in the Washington Post this weekend described some of the stories of a massive secretivedetention effort that has ensnared more than 1,100 people in the hunt for terrorists. It is a campaign that involveslocking up large numbers of Middle Eastern men, using whatever legal tools they can. To try to illuminate this hiddencampaign, the Post looked at the cases of 235 detainees.

Mohammad Mubeen is one of those. He is a 28 year old Pakistani gas attendant who got his license renewed at the sameFlorida motor vehicles’ branch as highjack leader Mohamed Atta. Mubeen has been held without bond for no reason otherthan circumstance.

The analysis of these cases — located through court records, news accounts, lawyers, relatives and friends — showsthat three-fifths of the detainees found by The Post are being held on immigration charges. Seventy-five havebeen released.

A Miami government attorney presented a striking legal document that offers insight into both the strategy behind thedetentions and a novel legal argument to keep people in custody on the most slender suspicion. Signed by a topinternational terrorism official at FBI headquarters in Washington, the seven-page document is being used repeatedlyby prosecutors in detention hearings across the country.

The operation is being conducted under great secrecy, with defense attorneys at times forbidden to remove documentsfrom court and a federal gag order preventing officials from discussing the detainees. Law enforcement officials haverefused to identify lawyers representing people who have been detained or to describe the most basic features of theoperation. The officials say they are prohibited from disclosing more information because of privacy laws, judges’orders and the secrecy rules surrounding the grand jury investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks.

An update in today’s Post says that most of the hundreds of people arrested on criminal charges as part of theinvestigation into the Sept. 11 terror attacks have been released from jail, according to a White House spokesman.But the majority of those detained for all reasons, including immigration violations as well as criminal charges,remain in custody.


  • George Lardner, reporter for the Washington Post.

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