Man detained by the U.S. after 9/11 released after 5 years without apology.

Here’s a perfect illustration of the problem inherent in the Bush Administration’s insistence on being able to hold terror suspects indefinitely: Benemar “Ben” Benatta is a Muslim man with a military background who was unfortunate enough to try and seek political asylum in Canada one week before the events of 9/11. On September 11 his five year ordeal began:

About a week before, Canadian officials had stopped Benatta as he entered the country from Buffalo to seek political asylum. On that Sept. 11, he was quietly transferred to a U.S. immigration lockup where a day passed before sullen FBI agents told him what the rest of the world already knew: terrorists had attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

It slowly dawned on Benatta that his pedigree – a Muslim man with a military background – made him a target in the frenzied national dragnet that soon followed. The FBI didn’t accuse him of being a terrorist, at least not outright. But agents kept asking if he could fly an airplane.

He told them he couldn’t. It made no difference.

“They gave me a feeling that I was Suspect No. 1,” he said in a recent interview.

The veiled accusations and vehement denials would continue for nearly five years – despite official findings in 2001 that he had no terrorist links and in 2003 that authorities had violated his rights by colluding to keep him in custody.

Take a moment and imagine yourself in that scenario. Through a matter of happenstance you’re suddenly in the hands of the U.S. Government being interrogated about a horrendous crime you weren’t involved with and you have no idea if you’ll ever see the light of day again because the Bush Administration thinks they can hold you for as long as they want to without so much as a hearing to list charges against you. Benatta was in custody for 1,780 days—from the age of 27 to 32—for no reason other than he was a Muslim man trying to gain asylum in Canada.

“I say to myself from time to time, maybe what happened … it was some kind of dream,” he said. “I never believed things like that could happen in the United States.”

In a nation reeling from unthinkable horrors inflicted by an unconventional enemy, it could. And did.

I never thought it could either and it has to stop. This is wrong. This goes against everything I was ever taught was great about this country. I suppose Benatta should consider himself lucky as he wasn’t shipped to one of Bush’s detainee camps in another country where who knows what might have happened to him. Not that this made his experience any easier:

In Brooklyn, he was locked down – minus his shoes – 24 hours a day between FBI interrogations. When he continued to deny any involvement in the attacks, agents threatened to send him back to Algeria. As a deserter, he was certain he would be tortured.

“That was all my thinking all of the time – they were signing my execution warrant,” he said.

Prison guards, he said, dispensed humiliation in steady doses – rapping on his cell door every half hour to interrupt his sleep, stepping on his leg shackles hard enough to scar his ankles, locking him in an outdoor exercise cage despite freezing temperatures, conducting arbitrary strip searches.

The alleged abuses would have been bad enough.

But as a judge eventually pointed out, something else was amiss: Benatta was never charged with a crime.

The FBI grillings stopped sometime in November 2001, when an internal report was prepared saying he was cleared. On paper, he was no longer a terror suspect.

No one bothered to tell him.

December turned to March with Benatta still under lockdown in Brooklyn, without any contact with the outside world. “Each day, with that kind of conditions, is like a year,” he said.

Finally, in April, he received word that he would be transferred to Buffalo to face federal charges of carrying a phony ID when first detained. Benatta was denied bail while he fought the case. But for the first time he was allowed into the general population of federal defendants housed at an immigration detention center.

He also had access to the news, and was shocked by the images accompanying anniversary stories about the Sept. 11 attacks.

“It was the first time I’d really seen what happened,” he said.

It wasn’t until the second anniversary of the attacks that U.S. Magistrate H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr., in a bluntly worded ruling, found that Benatta’s detainment for a deportation hearing was “a charade.”

That still wasn’t enough to get him released. After that Judge’s ruling it would be another two years before an attorney managed to work out a solution that got him into a halfway house for political asylum seekers in Canada, and there’s still no guarantee he’ll be given asylum.

Imagine that for yourself. Five years, during most of which you have no recourse and no hope, only to be released without so much as a “my bad” from the government that kept you locked up for no good reason. The very idea should piss you off. Remember Benetta when you go to vote this November.

Link via AMERICABlog.

14 thoughts on “Man detained by the U.S. after 9/11 released after 5 years without apology.

  1. it seems our society is being transformed into Airstrip One.  I saw a great poster/image once that showed a copy of Orwell’s 1984 and it stated that it was the Bush Admin’s playbook.  Really chilling to find out that its true.

  2. Okay. I want to go on record as saying that this is horrible. No argument, no questions, no reservations. This should never happen anywhere in the world. IMHO, no one should ever be held without charges for more than a few days. Period.

    But by the same token, he was a former avionics technician in the Algerian Army, he had overstayed his visa in the US, and he was trying to get into Canada using fake ID, and was arrested just 6 days before 9/11. In the immediate post-9/11 days, he certainly would have looked suspicious to just about anyone.

  3. To follow up from Shelley—I can see this sort of detention happening for a short time, for just the reasons she claims. 

    That said, the FBI *cleared him in 11/01*.  The rest is just Kafkaesque bureaucracy.

  4. We sure taught him a lesson – how dare he be a middle easterner after 9/11?!? He was ASKING for it!

  5. Just to add to my last comment.
    Years ago there was a doco about life in Oz prisons.
    In an interview, the prisoner said:
    They treat us like shit and then !! they let us out (said with amazement). big surprise

  6. But by the same token, he was a former avionics technician in the Algerian Army, he had overstayed his visa in the US, and he was trying to get into Canada using fake ID

    You’d be surprised how many people in the world are willing to resort to *gasp* – forgeries – to escape from imprisonment, torture and death.

    I hope he sues the US, in an *US* court and gets awarded billions, or some other ridiculous amount. It seems that is one of the few ways to get redress in the US justice system. Don’t expect JUSTICE, ask a sympathtetic jury for damages instead.

    Though good luck in finding the sympathetic jury.

  7. You’d be surprised how many people in the world are willing to resort to *gasp* – forgeries – to escape from imprisonment, torture and death.

    Yes, and people are willing to use the same tactics to achieve a lot of other goals. Countries have some reasonable right to refuse murderers, drug dealers, and terrorists. Consequently, it is appropriate that some laws permit the investigation of these folks.

    Having said that, it is my feeling that there should be transparency about the process, access to legal services, and reasonable restrictions on what the government can and cannot do. Bushie (and many others) would see all that put aside.
    I did not say that I agreed with how he was treated—I most definitely do not. However, under the circumstances, it is quite reasonable to have held him in the short term.

  8. Consequently, it is appropriate that some laws permit the investigation of these folks.

    No question, Shelly. Just pointing out that even if all these things are true, this does not make his actions indefensible by necessity.

    In too many cases, people’s gut reaction is ‘Oh well, he broke the law, he had it coming’.

  9. Yes, and people are willing to use the same tactics to achieve a lot of other goals. Countries have some reasonable right to refuse murderers, drug dealers, and terrorists.

    Well yes obviously, but then

    despite official findings in 2001 that he had no terrorist links and in 2003 that authorities had violated his rights by colluding to keep him in custody.

    At this point I would expect some sort of change of heart by the authorities.

  10. Many of the neocons say (with respect to imprisonment, phone taps, etc) that if you’ve done nothing wrong, there is nothing to fear.  We can just add the name of Ben Benatta to the growing list:
    Steven Hatfill
    CAPT Yee
    Wen Ho Lee
    Brandon Mayfield

    When will it stop?
    SG

  11. Shelley writes…

    However, under the circumstances, it is quite reasonable to have held him in the short term.

    I absolutely agree. A short term detention to check him out would’ve been appropriate. Had things moved forward once the FBI cleared him two months after he was first picked up this entry would never have been written.

    It’s not the fact that he was detained I have a problem with. It’s the fact that he was detained for so long without ever being charged with anything.

  12. Actually, he was held under the ‘we can’t admit we fucked up, so we will not’ clause.

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