By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
After 105 days, the judge lost patience and demanded to see some sign from the FBIan agent or letter or somethingthat it wanted to hold Ali. He set a deadline for the government to put up or shut up. It came and went. Nothing from the FBI. Eventually, a New York County grand jury indicted Ali on charges of second-degree grand larceny and making false statements to a public authority in connection with his business dealings. There was no mention of terrorism. Ali pleaded not guilty; the case is pending. A judge freed him on $50,000 bond.
What happened to Ali was not just another mistake of an overburdened judicial system. It was part of a deliberate government scheme to carry out a dragnet by avoiding usual judicial procedures. A few other examples of how the dragnet works:
At a Hartford police station, Rafiq was interrogated by FBI and state cops. "They asked me," he recalled in the letter, "what was I doing on September 11, what I have been doing since September 11, what do I think about September 11. How long have I been living in this country, what I have been doing, my legal status, if I know any of the known terrorists. Did I ever send money to any terrorist network. I told them I am a highly educated computer professional who came to this country more than 13 years ago, I have a legal status in the country, I left my last Wall Street job due to a difference in opinion and arguments with the CEO. I was at my friend's house in Queens on September 11. I don't know any of the known terrorists. I never sent money to any terrorist network. I consider the September 11 attack as a horrible act of terrorism."
Rafiq is now in prison, where, according to a relative, his jailers sat by while other inmates beat him. He's awaiting trial on a charge of larcenydue, he said, to a statement he made five years ago in a business dispute. Bail is set at $1 million.
Now Akoram's son and wife are selling their house and their business to go back to Pakistan. "We don't want to, but we have no choice," the son said. "Our father is there, and we want to be with him." He added, "We were just a regular happy family living in America, and now everything has changed so fast."
Attorneys said that many detainees are originally held on minor immigration charges, but that FBI agents can keep holding them by signing an affidavit designating them as "material witnesses." Detainees' hearings are often conducted in sealed courtrooms, with no friends or family allowed to watch. Records of the proceedings are often sealed.
In other cases, attorneys said, detainees get FBI "clearance," but the INS steps in and deports them. Some prisoners fight deportation at immigration hearings; others waive their rights and meekly accept deportation. But if the FBI has a change of mind, a detainee may, instead of being deported, be further imprisoned as a material witness.
Civil liberties attorneys are trying to stop the dragnet. In Detroit a judge recently ruled that the government can't hold immigration hearings in secret. Judge Nancy G. Edmunds found that "the subtext is all about the government's right to suspend certain personal liberties in the pursuit of national security." The government is appealing Edmunds's decision.
Additional reporting: Gabrielle Jackson, Meritxell Mir, and Michael Ridley