The Justice Department settled a decades-old lawsuit on Tuesday filed by men who were rounded up by the government after the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks and held in a federal jail in New York in conditions the DOJ watchdog called abusive and harsh. The settlement calls for $98,000 to be paid out among six men who were held without terrorism charges at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn. The men — Ahmer Iqbal Abbasi, Anser Mehmood, Benamar Benatta, Ahmed Khalifa, Saeed Hammouda, and Purna Raj Bajracharya — said they were detained in restrictive conditions and abused by staff members.
The settlement is unusual because federal courts at nearly every level, including the Supreme Court, had thrown out large chunks of the lawsuit. Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal wrote to the men saying the Justice Department had determined they 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 don’t know that the director of the Bureau of Prisons has ever signed a letter of this nature before to individual clients, so that is unique,” said Rachel Meeropol of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents the men. Meeropol called the court battle a failure of the justice system, pointing to limitations on claims against federal officials. The settlement closes a chapter on a troubling era when Muslim, Arab and South Asian men were rounded up after the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 1,000 were arrested in sweeps across the New York area and nationwide. Most were charged only with overstaying visas and deported back to their home countries. Many were held in detention for months, with little outside contact, especially with their families.