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U.S. report critical of 9/11 detainee treatment

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A report from the U.S. Justice Department found 'significant problems' in the detainment of non-U.S. citizens in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. CNN's Kelli Arena reports (June 3)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A report from the U.S. Justice Department's inspector general found "significant problems" in the detainment of non-U.S. citizens in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, including "verbal and physical abuse."

Released Monday, the 198-page report cites major delays in informing many of the 762 detainees why they were being held. It also describes unduly harsh conditions of detainee confinement.

Inspector General Glenn Fine's report criticizes the government's unwritten "no bond" policy, which kept detainees behind bars over the objections of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It blamed the FBI for delays in clearing detainees who were not tied to terrorism.

"While our review recognized the enormous challenges and difficult circumstances confronting the department in responding to the terrorist attacks, we found significant problems in the way the detainees were handled," Fine said.

"While the chaotic situation and the uncertainties surrounding the detainees' connections to terrorism explain some of the problems we found in our review, they do not explain them all."

The report documents treatment of detainees in the 11 months after September 11, 2001. Aliens were held on immigration-related charges specifically stemming from a massive U.S. government investigation launched immediately after the terrorist attacks.

The report examined two facilities where the majority of foreign nationals were detained. The Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, was under control of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Passaic County Jail in Paterson, New Jersey, was under contract to the INS.

The Bureau of Prisons and INS then were part of the Justice Department, but the INS since has been folded into the newly formed Department of Homeland Security.

Treatment of detainees was significantly more harsh at the New York center than at the New Jersey facility, according to the report. "Although we received some allegations of physical and verbal abuse, we did not find the evidence indicated a pattern of abuse at Passaic," the inspector general's report said.

"With regard to allegations of abuse at the MDC [in Brooklyn] the evidence indicates a pattern of physical and verbal abuse by some correctional officers at the MDC against some September 11 detainees, particularly during the first months after the attacks and during intake and movement of prisoners," the report said.

The report singled out four cases assigned to the FBI of allegations of detainee physical abuse by correctional officers at the New York facility.

"In each of the four cases assigned to the FBI, the detainee alleged that he was 'slammed' against a wall or door by MDC correctional officers and was injured as a result," the report said. "Two of the detainees also alleged that they were threatened by MDC correctional officers and incurred additional physical abuse, such as being kicked by officers or having the chain on their leg restraints stepped on by officers."

The inspector general's office will continue to investigate the allegations as well as similar incidents reported to the Bureau of Prisons, the report said.

In response to a CNN report Friday previewing some of the probe's key findings, Justice Department officials insisted the government's actions were consistent with court rulings and within the law.

Justice Department officials have scheduled a briefing later Monday to comment on the inspector general's findings.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the report confirms their criticism of detainee treatment.

"This report shows the war on terrorism became a war on immigrants," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero.

The inspector general offered 21 recommendations dealing with issues such as the need to develop uniform detainee arrest and classification policies and improving the FBI clearance process.

The report also urged clarifying procedures for processing detainees, improving information sharing between agencies, revising procedures for confining aliens suspected of terrorism and improving oversight of detainees housed in contract facilities.

Justice Department officials on Friday told CNN that 505 of the 766 individuals taken into custody have been deported from the United States. A handful of detainees initially picked up on immigration-related violations remain in federal custody, they said.

The officials stressed that 86 percent of the detentions occurred in the first three months after the attacks and said 54 of the detainees remained in federal custody more than 90 days.

One of those detained on possible immigration violations, Egyptian Hady Hassan Omar, has sued employees of the Bureau of Prisons and INS.

In his suit and in a recent interview with CNN, Omar alleged his rights were violated in repeated strip searches. He also said his freedom of religion was infringed upon at a federal penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana, because he was fed pork, which is against his religion.

The Justice Department said the prison officials have denied Omar was served pork.

CNN Justice Department Correspondent Kelli Arena and Producer Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

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