Five immigrant men who were detained in roundups in New York and eventually deported following the Sept. 11 attacks have reached a $1.26 million settlement with the U.S. government.
The men were part of a lawsuit against the government over the roundups that put them in federal detention and the abuse they say they suffered while they were there. Two other plaintiffs are still part of the lawsuit.
Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the detainees, said she hoped the settlement would serve as a deterrent to prevent similar government practices.
"Our hope is that it will keep the government from rounding up individuals based on religion and ethnicity,'' she said Tuesday. "My clients were really treated as terrorists based on nothing more than their religion and where they came from.''
The center notified the court Monday of the settlement. The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to an e-mail from The Associated Press seeking comment Tuesday.
The men were among more than 170 Arab and Muslim men jailed for immigration law violations at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. The suit, filed in 2002, claimed that former Attorney General John Ashcroft, prison personnel, FBI supervisors and other officials violated the men's rights by imprisoning them on the basis of their race and religion.
The men said they were denied access to phones and lawyers for weeks at a time, locked in tiny cells where lights burned all night, kept awake by guards pounding on their doors, put in handcuffs and shackles whenever outside their cells, and beaten at random.
The case was bolstered by a 2003 report by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General, which found "significant problems'' with the treatment of nearly 800 detainees nationwide, including abusive conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center.
Reached in Alexandria, Egypt, Yasser Ebrahim said that after seven years, "I just couldn't wait any longer.'' The settlement, he said, is "an end of one phase of my life and the beginning of a new one. This whole nightmare, we can just let it go.''
The lawsuit is currently awaiting a decision from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on whether key claims should have been dismissed. Meeropol said a request has been made to amend the suit to add five new names to the remaining two plaintiffs.
Ehab Elmaghraby, a detainee who made similar claims in another lawsuit, settled his portion of that case for $300,000. He was held at the center for almost a year, and was deported in 2003 after pleading guilty to credit card fraud.