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Treatment of detainees under review

Treatment of detainees under review

From Jonathan Aiken
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Justice Department's inspector general is investigating the treatment of the more than 1,200 Muslims arrested in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks, the office said Wednesday.

The probe follows months of allegations by civil-rights advocates that those detained since last fall are being deprived their legal rights. Many of those arrested are said to be of Arab and South Asian descent, leading some immigration attorneys to accuse federal authorities of racial profiling.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the inspector general's office said it will focus on the treatment detainees received in two facilities -- the Passaic County Jail in Paterson, New Jersey, and the Metropolitan Detention Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

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The MetDet, as it is known, is a federal facility operated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The Passaic jail is a county facility.

The Justice Department refused to specify the number of detainees still being held in connection with the terrorist attacks. Amnesty International estimates about 300 are currently in custody in the United States.

Fewer than 100 prisoners are considered "material witnesses" by federal prosecutors and face possible criminal charges.

Many more detainees have been held under the Immigration and Naturalization Service's jurisdiction. The INS has already returned some former prisoners to their home countries.

The inspector general will assess how the Justice Department complied with "laws, regulations and policies that protect the civil rights of the detainees," the statement said.

Specifically, the office plans to review the "detainees' access to counsel, timeliness of presentation or disposition of criminal or other charges, and physical detention conditions."

The USA Patriot Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Bush last fall, charges the inspector general with protecting civil liberties, the office said.

A Justice Department spokesman offered no timetable for its conclusion.


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