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Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Arrested Terror Suspects - 2002-04-18

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based civil rights group, has filed a class action lawsuit again the federal government on behalf of Middle Eastern men arrested and detained on immigration violations following the September 11 attack on the city.

The Center filed the lawsuit in federal court in New York where - according to the group more than 80 Middle Eastern men faced excessively hard conditions in jails. The Center says some of the detainees were placed in small, windowless cells and suffered physical and mental abuse by prison guards.

Robert Perry, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, says most of the men were detained far longer than usual or necessary after receiving final deportation or voluntary departures orders from immigration judges. "The class members we represent have been detained for much, much longer than necessary to remove them from the country," he said. "And they have been detained because they are presumed to have involvement with the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11. And they are not released and sent home until they have been cleared by the INS and the FBI. This reverses the presumption of innocence. Here there is a presumption of guilt."

Mr. Perry says most of the men, including the chief plaintiffs, have been released, but others are still behind bars. He says the Center for Constitutional Rights has a good chance of eventually winning the lawsuit. "We think, for example, focusing on the detention claim, that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the detention of these individuals without probable cause to believe that they have committed any crime and been involved in terrorist activity. We think that is a very strong claim," he said.

Other lawsuits have been filed on behalf of the detainees but this is the first alleging abusive prison conditions.