The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint with the United Nations on behalf of immigrants imprisoned by the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The ACLU accuses the United States of violating international law by deporting and detaining people.
The U.S. government says it detained 765 Arab American and Muslim immigrants without charges in the weeks following the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon near Washington. It says 478 of these immigrants were deported.
In its submission to the United Nations, the ACLU alleges the U.S. government arbitrarily and indiscriminately detained immigrants unconnected to terrorism or crime.
ACLU attorney, Jameel Jaffer, says many of these immigrants remained in jail, sometimes in solitary confinement, for weeks or months. He claims the government refused to release them even when it became clear they were innocent of any charges related to terrorism.
He says these men were denied fundamental rights recognized under international law.
"In many cases, the government failed to notify detainees of the charges that they faced, it refused them access to counsel," he said. "It also denied them meaningful judicial review of their confinement. It failed to bring detainees promptly before judicial officers. It categorically opposed detainees release on bond and under a policy known as hold until cleared, it prolonged individuals' immigration detention until the government affirmatively cleared them of connections to terrorism."
Mr. Jaffer says most of the men were non-citizens who had overstayed their visas or committed civil infractions, but none of them was charged with a criminal or terror-related offense.
The U.S. government has always denied acting against national or international law, and says it is acting in fulfillment of its obligation to protect its citizens. The U.S. Mission to the United Nations had no immediate comment on the ACLU complaint.
The ACLU has filed a petition with the U.N. Working Group on behalf of 13 Muslim immigrants who had been detained by the U.S. government. One of them, Khurram Altaf, was deported to Pakistan after 18 years of residence in the United States.
Mr. Altaf was a manager of a large truck stop in New Jersey and is the father of three American-born children. He says two officers came to his home April 30, 2002, and took him to a police station where he was interrogated.
"After that, they took me to Hackensack, New Jersey Bergen County jail and I was there for two months," he said. "Even my brother hired a lawyer. I saw my lawyer only one time and he tried to get a bond hearing, a court hearing - nothing…"
The ACLU says bringing this petition to the United Nations will help lift the veil of secrecy surrounding the actions taken by the government since the September 11 attack.