Five Israelis arrested on 9-11 who allege in a civil suit that they were abused for weeks by guards at a federal prison in Brooklyn are closely watching two similar suits by Muslim detainees who make virtually the same allegations.
Judge John Gleeson of U.S. District Court could rule at any time on a motion by the government to dismiss the case involving the Muslims, who were picked up following the terror attacks for visa violations and held for months while being investigated for ties to terrorist groups.
“Whatever the court decides in those cases will be influential in our case,” said Robert Tolchin, one of the lawyers representing the Israelis, who claim they were picked up for immigration violations but subjected to a “hold until cleared” policy in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack.
While held without bail in a special unit of the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center, they were routinely strip-searched, subjected to anti-Semitic slurs and denied kosher food, as well as contact with a Jewish chaplain, their consulate and family members, according to court papers.
One man said he was punished for davening aloud in his cell, while another claims he was forced on Yom Kippur to submit a blood sample, causing him to lose consciousness. Another said that when he asked for a medical exam, it was offered only in a manner that would have humiliated him.
They also claim they were singled out for mistreatment because of their national origin and religion. One plaintiff said he was told by a guard that “all Jews deserve to die.”
A 2003 report by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice concluded that conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center, where 762 people arrested after 9-11 were held, were “excessively restrictive and unduly harsh,” and that “evidence showed some MDC correctional officers physically and verbally abused some … detainees, particularly during the months immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks.”
The civil suits each name dozens of prison guards and supervisors as well as the warden of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller and other officials.
The five Israelis, who were working as movers in violation of their tourist visas, were arrested in New Jersey while trying to cross into Staten Island hours after the attack. Police were on the lookout for their truck following a report that Middle Eastern men were congenially posing for pictures on the top of the vehicle with the burning Twin Towers in the background.
The Israelis were held about two months and have since left the country. In an interview from Tel Aviv, one of the plaintiffs, Oded Ellner, said he lost more than 30 pounds during his incarceration because of insufficient or inedible food, lost some of his hair and went temporarily blind in one eye.