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Friday, January 2, 2004

benemar benatta. truth over freedom

benemar benatta was taken into custody legitimately – for having false id papers. no big deal, really, except that it was september 5, 2001, and within a week, the world trade center towers would crumble.

it started as just another catch at the border, but here’s why you need to worry.

benatta was held in solitary confinement with 24 hour lights and noise to deprive him of sleep. he wasn’t permitted to speak, shower or even read. he did not have access to a lawyer.

the fbi cleared benemar benatta of any involvement with the september 11 attacks within two months. and he was kept in those same cruel and unusual [yes, i just invoked the united states constitution – that’s the 8th amendment for anyone who still thinks it might apply to them] conditions for five months after that.

at this point he was offered a deal – to plead guilty to something he did not do in exchange for his release. surprisingly enough, after 7 months of solitary confinement (and torture), and without the benefit of legal counsel, benemar benatta valued truth over personal freedom.

benemar benatta can sit at my table any day.

then he was transferred to another detention facility and assigned a public defender. now more than two years after he was arrested, all charges were dropped at the recommendation of a federal judge, but he is still in custody, and fighting deportation to algeria.

As for Benemar Benatta, he is remarkably understanding: “I don’t blame the United States,” he says. “They’ve never had to deal with terrorists, and 3,000 people died.”

there isn’t much to be found on this story, and that’s one of the more troublesome issues. if you search for benemar benatta with google, a number of the hits have vanished. this is also quite troubling. i think we have sources enough to consider this a valid story. i think even the possibility that this is true is one of the most disturbing and important issues america faces today. rather than fighting terrorists, we have become terrorists. this government is acting like a third-world, third-rate petty dictator in the name of security.

that’s my opinion. you should form your own.

in the meantime, be careful jaywalking. you could get 7 months of torture while someone tries to get you to plead guilty to something.

paul campos in rocky mountain news.
a terrorist nation called america in indymedia (uk).
two years gone from abc news.
release from jail sought for cleared terrorism suspect. washington post [this article will self-destruct].
cleared 9-11 detainee still being held fort worth star telegram. (a shortened version of the post article).
algerian born detainee seen as victim of excess. washington post [this article will cost you].
embassy of algeria responds to article. washington post [this article will also cost you].

update: added the dec 31 washington post article to the long version. and links to it and the star-tribune articles.

i wasn’t using my civil rights anyway

Campos: Benemar Benatta’s story

December 2, 2003

This is the story of a man who was taken into legal custody under false pretenses, and thrown immediately into solitary confinement. He was held in a tiny cell, illuminated for 24 hours a day, which he never left except to be interrogated. Guards would hammer on the cell door every half-hour around the clock to keep him awake.

After a month of this, he couldn’t walk anymore. He wasn’t allowed to talk without being punished; he could not shower or shave; he had no access to any reading material, a lawyer or anyone in the outside world.

After two months, the government that seized him decided it had made a mistake, and that he wasn’t guilty of the crime they had suspected he had committed. But they kept him in solitary confinement for another five months anyway.

During this time, the government fabricated a criminal charge against him, so that he could be kept in prison. A warrant was issued for his arrest (he was not “arrested” until he had spent three months in solitary confinement), but he was never informed of this, nor was he allowed to contact a lawyer.

After seven months, the government finally let him out of his tiny, constantly illuminated cell, and offered him a deal: If he would plead guilty to the criminal charge they had fabricated, they would release him from prison. He refused.

So the government kept him in prison. The government’s lawyers did everything in their considerable power to keep the prisoner from getting a hearing. Indeed, they did their best to obscure that the prisoner even existed: His name didn’t appear on any list of arrested or detained persons, so his family assumed he had been made to “disappear,” as people do sometimes under totalitarian regimes.

Luckily for the prisoner, the fact that he had finally been arrested meant the government couldn’t keep him from getting a lawyer indefinitely. An attorney was appointed to handle his case, and he started filing motions. The government’s prosecutors threw every legal roadblock they could find in front of this lawyer, but he kept at it. When asked why, he replied that what his government was doing offended him as a citizen.

It took the lawyer 17 months to get a judge to rule that the government was illegally abusing his client, in violation of the most basic principles of the government’s own laws. But that was hardly the end of his client’s troubles. The government then decided to deport his client to his native country, even though there was a real chance the government of that country would kill his client if it could get its hands on him.

This story did not take place in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia: It is taking place today in the United States. The prisoner in question is an Algerian man named Benemar Benatta, and the story of what has been done to him over the course of the last 27 months would make Franz Kafka cringe.

Benatta’s tale, as told in the Nov. 29 edition of The Washington Post, is the kind of thing that would lead to the immediate firing of those responsible, assuming that the authorities in question had any sense of shame.

Since the authorities in question include John Ashcroft it seems unlikely that any heads will roll, metaphorically speaking. As for Benemar Benatta, he is remarkably understanding: “I don’t blame the United States,” he says. “They’ve never had to deal with terrorists, and 3,000 people died.”

We do have to deal with terrorists – and some of them are employed by our legal system.

Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado. He can be reached at

Release From Jail Sought for Cleared Terrorism Suspect

By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 31, 2003; Page A04

Benamar Benatta has obtained a lawyer, and offers of shelter and a job. Now, if a federal judge agrees to lower or waive his $25,000 bond next week, he could step out of his prison cell for the first time in 27 months.

Benatta is one of the last lost men of 9/11. Jailed on the day of the 2001 attacks, the Algerian air force lieutenant has spent more than two years in federal prisons — much of that time in solitary confinement — even though the FBI formally concluded in November 2001 that he had no connection to terrorism.

Benatta was among 1,200 men detained in the weeks after the terrorist attacks. Save for a possible unknown material witness, no detainee has remained locked up as long as Benatta.

The Washington Post reported on Benatta’s long detention in an article this Nov. 29. The article tracked his case from his arrest in 2001 to a federal magistrate’s decision in September that lambasted federal prosecutors and recommended Benatta’s release.

“The defendant in this case undeniably was deprived of his liberty and held in custody under harsh conditions which can be said to be oppressive,” wrote U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr.

The federal prosecutor in Buffalo agreed to drop all charges against Benatta, 29, shortly after Schroeder released his decision. Benatta now faces a deportation charge. Unlike many facing such charges, he remains behind bars at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, N.Y., because he cannot post the bond.

“You’re taking away someone’s liberty and holding them without due process,” said Robert D. Kolken, a veteran immigration lawyer in Buffalo who has taken Benatta’s case pro bono. “I seem to remember that we fought a war of independence over these issues.”

Kolken will ask a judge next week to waive Benatta’s bond. Vive La Casa, a northern New York shelter serving immigrants, has agreed to take in Benatta while he appeals his case. Another organization has promised to find him a job.

Benatta has requested asylum in the United States. His native land is torn by a low-level civil war between a military criticized for severe human rights violations and a violent Islamic guerrilla movement. Benatta has said he faced untenable choices.

“He says one of his relatives married a terrorist and that they have threatened to kill him if he doesn’t resign from the army,” Kolken said. “On the other hand, he said he refused orders to torture women and massacre terrorists.”

Benatta fears being imprisoned or shot if he returns to Algeria. The Algerian Embassy, while agreeing that he was mistreated in this country, stated in a letter to The Washington Post that the army has not executed a deserter since 1992.

Benatta came to the United States in December 2000 for training sessions at Northrop Grumman Corp. in Baltimore. At the end of the training, he decided to stay without legal permission in the United States. He later sought entry to Canada, which was holding him at the border at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Canadians handed him back to the United States, which put him in solitary confinement in Brooklyn. The FBI in November 2001 cleared Benatta of any connection to terrorism.

But no one told Benatta. He remained locked up and was not offered a lawyer. Nor was he told that federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against him in December 2001, accusing him of carrying false identification papers.

Schroeder found that the prosecutors repeatedly violated Benatta’s rights. The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, a group that monitors the war on terrorism, has asked the Justice Department to establish an internal review procedure for such cases. “Benatta’s case really illustrates the need for a high-level review of these cases,” said Elisa Massimino, the group’s D.C. director. “There need to be safeguards against violating someone’s rights.”

The Justice Department declined requests for comment.

posted by roj at 11:15 pm