[Last update: 8 March 2002]

Two Thousand Detainees

by Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney (D-Ga)

The Black World Today March 5, 2002

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. LATOURETTE). Under a previous order of the House, the gentlewoman from Georgia (Ms. MCKINNEY) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Ms. MCKINNEY Mr. Speaker, I would like to address a matter of grave concern for those of us who value freedom and democracy in this country.

On December 14, Rabih Haddad, a prominent community leader and religious cleric in Anne Arbor, Michigan, was preparing to celebrate a major religious holiday with his wife and four children when a knock came at his door. There stood three INS agents who had come to take him away. Mr. Haddad is now being held in 23-hour solitary confinement several hundred miles away from his family, whom he is allowed to see only 4 hours a month. Mr. Haddad has been in jail for 76 days and has never been charged with a crime.

On November 24, Mazen Al-Najjar, a former university professor and religious leader living in Tampa, Florida, was rearrested by Justice Department officials. Professor Al-Najjar had already been held for 3 years in Federal prison on secret evidence until December 2000, when a judge ruled that allegations against him were baseless and ordered the government to release him. He is now being held in 23-hour lockdown in a maximum security prison. Professor Al-Najjar has been in jail for 96 days and still has never been charged with a crime.

In early October, Anser Mehmood, a New Jersey truck driver originally from Pakistan, was arrested by Federal law enforcement officials. His family was not allowed to visit him for 3 months, nor were they told of his whereabouts. Deprived of their only source of income, his wife and four children have been forced to sell all of their belongings and now plan to return to Pakistan. Anser has been in jail for more than 140 days and has never been charged with a crime.

On September 18, Mohammed Refai, a legal resident of the United States, was informed that the 1-year extension of his conditional green card was being revoked. Then he was put in jail. The government denied him access to his lawyer for 2 days, and he remains in solitary confinement. Mohammad has been in jail for 162 days and has never been charged with a crime.

These are just a handful of the stories of people who have been swept up in Attorney General John Ashcroft's dragnet and who have been denied the most fundamental rights of due process and rule of law. But there are literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of such cases all over the country.

We do not know their names, and we do not know what they are being charged with. We do not know if they have access to legal assistance or even to their families. There are reports that many have been mistreated and denied access to their legal counsel and even visits by their families. We know that one such detainee has already died while in U.S. custody. But we do not know exactly how many others are being held because the Bush administration will not tell us. They will not tell us who they are, where they are, or why they are being held.

The ACLU and other domestic civil rights groups estimate there are as many as 2,000 individuals, most of them men from the Middle East and South Asia, who are now swept up in this administration dragnet. The number will likely increase in the coming months as John Ashcroft goes after thousands more so-called ``absconders.''

We do know that one detainee, 55-year-old Mohammad Butt from Pakistan, died in custody at the Hudson County Jail in New Jersey. But the Justice Department offers little justice for those now caught in its snare.

The great irony is that all along the administration has said that we are hated because we are free; not because of what we are, but because we are free.

There is so much talk about how America is viewed abroad. Well, let us look at a recent headline: ``The disappeared: Since 11 September, last year, up to 2,000 people in the United States have been detained without trial or charge or even legal rights. The fate of most is unknown. Andrew Gumbel investigates a scandal that shames the land of the free.''

A scandal that shames the land of the free, and most Americans do not even know it. But that is not from a newspaper in Pyongyang; it is not from a newspaper in Tehran. It is from a newspaper from London, one of the largest newspapers, in fact, in London, from the Independent.

If we want the world to understand who we are and what we stand for, we should bear in mind that everything we say and do is broadcast all over the world, even if it is not broadcast right here in America. When what is being broadcast are mass arrests of young men and closing down of charities, then we can only expect insightful rhetoric from abroad. It is time we start living up to our own standards of freedom, equality, and justice.


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