while attention has focused on Taliban and al Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Amnesty International has now discovered that the doors are barred to monitoring in a major detention centre in the U.S.After interviews with detainees' relatives and lawyers, Amnesty became concerned about allegations of abuse at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where 40 immigration detainees have been held for five months. None has been charged with a criminal offence, and they are not suspected of involvement with al Qaeda.
"It's hard not to be concerned that activities are occurring there that are inappropriate," says John Tackaberry, spokesperson for AI Canada. "The physical conditions of a facility shouldn't be considered classified. If they have nothing to hide, there is no reason to deny us access."
The 40 detainees are among nearly 600 still being held in U.S. prisons after September 11, many in solitary confinement with little or no exercise, their sleep disrupted by 24-hour lighting and restrictions placed on their phone calls to attorneys, according to Amnesty. Tackaberry also cites allegations of physical and verbal abuse.
While the Metropolitan Detention Center prevented the group access, Amnesty did get permission this month to tour two other U.S. detention centres in New Jersey and plans to issue a report on conditions there.
Of the detainees, some 460 were cited for alleged immigration or visa violations but have yet to face a criminal charge. U.S. authorities have offered to drop any pending charges against the alleged immigration violators if they voluntarily leave the country. Many have agreed to do so but are still being forcibly held for FBI questioning, says Tackaberry.
Another 100 people have been charged with mostly minor criminal offences, and only a dozen are suspected of any involvement with al Qaeda. Many were granted bail by a judge but are still being held.
The Metropolitan Detention Center did not respond to NOW's request for an interview.
Interestingly enough, despite the lack of info from U.S. authorities, they are still, says Tackaberry, more open than Canadian authorities about detentions here. "We don't have evidence of a sweep in Canada," he says. "We do know of individual deportation hearings of people with indirect connection to September 11. In the U.S. they have identified the numbers. In Canada, we don't have a global number for people held for investigation. We're in the dark."
Amnesty's latest concerns echo the group's alarm about poor conditions for thousands of prisoners detained in Afghanistan. Observers there report dangerous overcrowding, lack of adequate food and medicine and lack of shelter from severe winter weather.