Caribbean nationals finally know the identities of the Guyanese immigrants currently being detained as “terror suspects” by officials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Hassan Azizeldin, Syed Imitiaz Hassan, Mohammad Zahid Mahmood, Muhammad Jahangir, Wasim Mohammed Khan and Mohamed Maddy are still in the custody of the INS and are reportedly being held for running afoul of the U.S. immigration laws.
Another Guyanese, Rehman Sabir Khan, was also in detention but was released mid-last month on bond. The men, all apparently Indo-Guyanese with Muslim surnames, range between the ages of 21 and 36.
Dr. Odeen Ishmael, Guyana’s ambassador to Washington, D.C., was quoted as saying that his office obtained a print out of the names from the U.S. State Department. He added that to date he has received no word from INS officials regarding the detention of nationals from his country.
The Guyanese immigrants were picked up and are being held on various offenses including overstaying their visas; entering the United States without inspection or via the “backtrack”; obtaining a visa fraudulently to enter the U.S.; not having a valid entry document; being inadmissible for entry/adjustment of status and failure to maintain status, that is, entering as a student but not attending school.
Two Trinidadians are also in custody but their names are yet to be released. Other immigrants in custody include Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Saudi Arabians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Moroccans, Yemenis, Lebanese, Palestinians, Israelis, Turkish, Tunisians and even a few from Africa, including Sudan and Kenya.
The Justice Department says it has detained or arrested 1,147 people so far. One hundred and eighty-five are reportedly in the custody of the INS. Justice officials have consistently declined to disclose how many of those in custody have been released, but said last week that “the vast majority” remain in detention.
The Justice Department also has acknowledged that some people who are in the custody of the FBI or other federal agencies—excluding the INS—are being held as “material witnesses.”
Defense lawyers say they believe that number is small, perhaps one or two dozen. Many of the detainees are reportedly being held without access to legal counsel.
Citing the government’s continuing refusal to adequately respond to previous inquiries, a group of civil liberties, civil rights and human rights organizations on December 5 filed the first lawsuit requesting the disclosure of basic information about those individuals arrested and detained since September 11.
The action was filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., under the Freedom of Information Act by 16 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for National Security Studies, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Arab American Institute, the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Council on American Islamic Relations, Human Rights Watch and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The group says that they are concerned that the Justice Department is interrogating individuals because of their ethnicity without any facts that the specific individuals have information about terrorist activities.
“Questions to be asked (as outlined in Justice Department guidelines for interviewers) go beyond those seeking factual information and include inquiries about people’s political beliefs and the political beliefs of family members and friends,” the group said in a prepared statement.
In commenting on the law suit, Steven R. Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “The Justice Department consistently refuses to provide the information necessary to guarantee the American public that those jailed since September 11 are being accorded the constitutional protections guaranteed to all people in America by the Bill of Rights.”
Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, commented: “Since we first asked for this information, there is mounting evidence that secrecy is being invoked to shield serious violations of individual rights and not for legitimate investigative purposes. Instead of the Attorney General simply announcing that they are respecting the Constitution, we need the evidence that will show whether that is true.”
David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said, “This case involves a matter of extraordinary public interest and presents one of the strongest rationales for expeditious disclosure ever presented to the federal courts.”
While the group says it respects the Justice Department’s need to keep some information in the ongoing investigation confidential, they want the essential facts released.
“It is impossible for the public to assess whether or not the government investigation into the crimes of September 11 has been reasonable and effective if the government withholds all the basic information about what it has been doing,” said Hussein Ibish, communications director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “Democratic government requires that citizens know what the government is doing in their name.”