NEW YORK -- Inside the Special Housing Unit of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, dozens of detainees held for months in connection with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have been confined to their cells nearly 24 hours a day.
The lights are always on, making it difficult to sleep. The prisoners are subject to body cavity searches after each meeting with their attorneys. They are transported in shackles, handcuffs and waist chains. In some cases, the detainees have been subject to harassment by prison guards and rough treatment that has left them bloodied.
The conditions were described by three detainees recently released from MDC who offered the first public glimpse of life inside the federal prison's maximum security unit, supposedly reserved for some of the most important suspects in the government's terrorism investigation.
The facility, run by the Bureau of Prisons, has come under scrutiny recently because the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General is conducting a "review" to determine whether authorities violated the civil rights of detainees held at MDC and another facility, the Passaic County Jail in Paterson, N.J.
Immigration lawyers and advocates have lodged repeated allegations of civil rights violations involving the detainees at MDC, who over time have numbered perhaps several dozen of the more than 1,200 people picked up in the government's massive dragnet after Sept. 11. A legal group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, announced Tuesday that it planned to file a class action lawsuit Wednesday against federal officials and unnamed MDC corrections officers who allegedly committed abuses against detainees.
Although the Justice Department has conducted its investigation in total secrecy, the government has announced no terrorism-related charges against any of those held under maximum security conditions at MDC. In fact, it is unclear why the three detainees who spoke to The Washington Post or others at MDC had been placed in the Special Housing Unit rather than other facilities where hundreds of detainees connected to the investigation have been kept in conditions that are far less restrictive.
Officials with the Bureau of Prisons, the INS and the Justice Department declined to comment on specific cases. One U.S. official said the decision on where and how a detainee would be confined was made at "the highest levels of the Justice Department" and was evaluated on a case by case basis.
The decisions, the official said, depended on several issues, including the nature of the evidence that had been gathered, available space in the detention facilities and whether the detainee presented a flight or safety risk.
Daniel Dunne, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, said that the Bureau of Prisons investigated all allegations of staff misconduct.
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