The Toronto Star has a long interview with Benamar Benatta today. Benatta, who I blogged about here, was "detained" (translation: abducted and imprisoned) on September 12, 2001. Despite being cleared of all suspicions of terrorism, he was freed only last week.

Benatta is believed to be the last "domestic detainee" to be released from custody. He is now seeking refugee status in Canada. From the interview:
What transpired during those days is a blur for Benatta, but court filings say he was "spirited off" to Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Center, a facility normally used to house crime suspects, not immigration detainees.

Even though Benatta was cleared of terror links in November 2001, he was left to languish at the Brooklyn jail until the following April.

"There was constant abuse at that time. For instance, they hit your head, every half hour they came, they wake you," he said. "During the first month I wasn't allowed to shave or wear shoes. There was no recreation. I was locked up 24 hours, with a light 24 hours. When they escort you outside, they hit your head, they twist your hands, they step on the shackles sometimes, they want to trip you," he said.

Benatta also said jail guards wrote the letters 'WTC' on his cell door to mark his connection to the World Trade Centre investigation.

In 2004, Benatta's allegations of abuse in custody were presented to a human rights panel of the United Nations by attorneys of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The group later accused the Bush administration of subjecting him to eight months of a "high security prison regime ... that could be described as torture."

"I ran from my country, where I was persecuted over there and there was threats against my life," he said. "I was expecting to come here and find America or Canada, they open their arms to me. I came here to forget what happened to me back home ... and get on with my life."

A federal magistrate who looked into Benatta's claims wrote in 2003 that he had been "held in custody under harsh conditions which can be said to be 'oppressive.'" He recommended that Benatta be released, saying he had been "undeniably deprived of his liberty."

The fact that Benatta had been held on alleged immigration charges after he was cleared of terror links prompted the magistrate to call the prosecution's case a "ruse," a "sham" and a "charade."

"The FBI would have been derelict in its duty if it did not pursue an investigation of the defendant after the Canadian authorities contacted the U.S. officials on Sept. 12, 2001," he wrote, adding: "Absent due process, the end cannot justify the means no matter how well or good intentioned the parties may be, for as the adage teaches, 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions.'"

In spite of the magistrate's recommendations, Benatta was held at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility while he fought the American attempt to deport him, until last week.

"I was believing they just locked me down and threw the keys away," he said.

Now, Benatta is staying at a Toronto refugee shelter, where he'll remain until he gets his footing. It will probably be more than a year before he learns the outcome of his refugee claim.

He has few belongings — most were lost when he was transferred. But Benatta has few complaints about his current digs. "It's better than the jail, that's for sure," he said.

No comments: