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Federal Judge Rules U.S. Can Detain Non-Citizens Indefinitely on Basis of Religion, Race or National Origin

StoryJune 16, 2006
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A federal judge in Brooklyn has ruled the government can legally detain non-citizens on the sole basis of their religion, race or national origin and then detain them indefinitely. We speak with an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights that filed a lawsuit in the case. [includes rush transcript]

A federal judge in Brooklyn has ruled the government can legally detain non-citizens on the sole basis of their religion, race or national origin and then detain them indefinitely.

The ruling came in response to a class action lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of a group of immigrants who were detained following Sept. 11th.

  • Rachel Meeropol, attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights and editor of the book "America’s Disappeared: Secret Imprisonment, Detainees, and the "War on Terror."

TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the case, we’re joined by Rachel Meeropol, an attorney with C.C.R. Welcome to Democracy Now!

RACHEL MEEROPOL: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain exactly what the federal judge in Brooklyn ruled?

RACHEL MEEROPOL: Sure. There’s some good news and bad news. I’ll start with the bad, unfortunately. The first thing that the judge ruled is that once a non-citizen is picked up for a valid immigration purpose, that non-citizen can be held after they receive a final deportation or removal order, as long as they are going to be deported at some point in the foreseeable future. That means that the United States has complete discretion to detain an individual for whatever purpose it wants after a final deportation order until they cease to have any use for that individual in this country. It also means that because there’s so much discretion built into the immigration law, the United States can use criteria that we would normally consider impermissible when dealing with citizens. For example, the United States can decide that it would like to hold non-citizens it picks up who are Muslims, who are Arab and South Asians, rather than other non-citizens, for a particularly long period of time.

What the judge actually ruled was that because we knew so little about the hijackers immediately after 9/11, that it was actually reasonable for the executive to decide to scrutinize all people who share certain characteristics. That they’re Muslims, that they’re here in violation of their visa. We think that this is really giving a green light to racial profiling in this country and we’re very disappointed by it. There’s a little good news as well. The good news is the judge has allowed our case to go forward, to challenge the conditions of confinement and the abuse that my client suffered at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. Now, he’s allowed the case to continue against not just the correctional officials and wardens who were at the facility, but also the high-level government officials who we believe were the architects of sweeping up my clients and hundreds of other Arab and South Asian men, and holding them in extremely restrictive and punishing conditions.

AMY GOODMAN: Rachel Meeropol is also the author of America’s Disappeared: Secret Imprisonment, Detainees and the War on Terror. What about that idea of "disappeared"? When people are rounded up, one person or many, and no one knows? Do they have a right to let the outside world know?

RACHEL MEEROPOL: Well that’s one of the claims that survived in the case, actually. Immediately after the men were swept up, there was a communications blackout that we believe was ordered at the highest level of government. Basically, no one was to have access to these individuals. They couldn’t call outside of the facility. They couldn’t write. They couldn’t receive phone calls, letters, visitors. Not from family members, not from their lawyers. Lawyers and family members were actually calling the facility where they believed the men to be held, and the people at the facility would say, ’I’m sorry, that person is not here.’ This went on for a month, six weeks. Our challenge to that policy is alive still, and we’ll fight that one out.

AMY GOODMAN: Rachel Meeropol, what about the issue of representing people who the government considers suspect? The issue that C.C.R. is bringing to court around spying on lawyers when they’re talking to their client.

RACHEL MEEROPOL: It’s a tricky business these days. Whenever you’re representing clients who have been suspected of ties to terrorism in the — in the context of this administration, you face the possibility of becoming a target yourself. We — CCR — has filed suit against Bush for the NSA wireless — warrantless wiretap program and in Turkmen v. Ashcroft, actually, which is the case that the opinion just came down in, we have, actually, just received a victory from the magistrate judge, who ordered that the United States had to disclose whether the litigation team that’s opposing us in the case, that’s defending the United States, has had access to any of the contents of our communications with our clients.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean whether they’ve been monitoring your e-mail, whether they’ve monitoring your phone calls?

RACHEL MEEROPOL: Exactly, exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: Can there be sneak and peeks? Meaning, can someone come into C.C.R.'s offices and you don't know they just read everything on your desk?

RACHEL MEEROPOL: Well, we certainly hope not. But at this point, we can’t be sure that any of our communications are secure. The judge ordered the litigation team to disclose whether it had any information, and also to disclose whether any witnesses who may testify in this case may have access to this information as well. The United States is going to object to that ruling before the district court judge. So I think we’ll be able to tell you more about the issue this summer.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Rachel Meeropol, attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights and editor of the book America’s Disappeared: Secret Imprisonment, Detainees, and the War on Terror.

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