Supplemental Report on September 11 Detainees' Allegations of Abuse at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York
Office of the Inspector General
This report details the investigation conducted by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concerning allegations that staff members of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York, physically and verbally abused aliens who were detained in connection with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.1 In June 2003, we issued a broader, 198-page report evaluating the treatment of 762 detainees who were held on immigration charges in connection with the investigation of the September 11 attacks.2 In that report, we examined how the Department of Justice (Department) handled these detainees, including their processing, their bond decisions, the timing of their removal from the United States or their release from custody, their access to counsel, and their conditions of confinement.
In Chapter 7 of the Detainee Report, we described the treatment of September 11 detainees in the MDC, and we concluded that the conditions were excessively restrictive and unduly harsh. Those conditions included inadequate access to counsel, sporadic and mistaken information to detainees' families and attorneys about where they were being detained, lockdown for at least 23 hours a day, cells remaining illuminated 24 hours a day, detainees placed in heavy restraints whenever they were moved outside their cells, limited access to recreation, and inadequate notice to detainees about the process for filing complaints about their treatment.
We also concluded in the Detainee Report that evidence showed some MDC correctional officers physically and verbally abused some September 11 detainees, particularly during the months immediately following the September 11 attacks. However, we noted in our report that our investigation of physical and verbal abuse was not completed, and we stated that we would provide our findings in a separate report. This report details our findings and conclusions from the investigation.
We have provided the results of our investigation to managers at BOP Headquarters for their review and appropriate disciplinary action. In the report to the BOP, we include an Appendix identifying those staff members who we believe committed misconduct or exercised poor judgment and setting forth the specific evidence against them. In the Appendix, we also describe the allegations against specific officers that we did not substantiate.
As discussed in detail below, our investigation developed evidence substantiating allegations that MDC staff members physically and verbally abused September 11 detainees. In the Appendix referenced above, we recommend that the BOP consider taking disciplinary action against ten current BOP employees, counseling two current MDC employees, and informing employers of four former staff members about our findings against them.
As discussed in detail in the Detainee Report, the Department used federal immigration laws to detain aliens in the United States who were suspected of having ties to the September 11 attacks or connections to terrorism, or who were encountered during the course of the terrorism investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In the first 11 months after the attacks, 762 aliens were detained in connection with the FBI terrorism investigation for various immigration offenses, including overstaying their visas and entering the country illegally.
A total of 84 of these aliens were confined at the MDC on immigration charges in the 11 months after the attacks. The facility at which a September 11 detainee was confined was determined mainly by the FBI's assessment of the detainee's potential links to the September 11 investigation or ties to terrorism. The FBI assessed detainees as "high interest," "of interest," or "undetermined interest."3 Generally, those labeled of "high interest" were confined at the MDC.
The MDC is a 9-story high-security BOP prison in Brooklyn, New York, that generally houses men and women either convicted of criminal offenses or awaiting trial or sentencing.4 The majority of the MDC inmates are housed in the facility's General Population Unit. Some inmates are confined in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), which normally holds inmates who are disruptive, pose a security risk, or need protection as witnesses. When MDC officials learned that they would receive aliens deemed potential suspects in the FBI's terrorism investigation, the MDC modified one wing of the SHU to accommodate these "high security" detainees and labeled the modified wing the "administrative maximum" or "ADMAX" SHU. The ADMAX SHU was designed to confine the detainees in the most restrictive and secure conditions permitted by BOP policy.
The detainees began to arrive at the MDC on September 14, 2001. They were transported often in armed convoys and generally by federal agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The transport vehicles holding the detainees entered the MDC through the U.S. Marshal's sally port, which is similar to a large garage and is connected to the Receiving and Discharge (R&D) area of the MDC. Once inside the sally port, the transport vehicle was met by four to seven BOP staff members who removed the detainee from the vehicle. The staff members then put the detainee next to a wall directly adjacent to the transport vehicle and performed a "pat search" during which the detainee was frisked and the restraints in which the detainee arrived were exchanged for BOP restraints. The BOP officers then walked the detainees up a ramp in the sally port through a set of doors leading to a holding cell in R&D.
In R&D, the detainees were taken one at a time from the holding cell to be fingerprinted, photographed, examined, and then strip searched with restraints removed.5 They received prison clothes, were once again fully restrained in metal handcuffs attached to a waist chain that was connected to ankle cuffs, and were taken up the elevator to the ninth floor of the MDC.
On the ninth floor, the detainees were taken to the ADMAX SHU, where they were strip searched again and locked in their cells alone or with one other detainee. Detainees remained in their cells at least 23 hours a day. Until late February 2002, the cells were constantly illuminated.
The ADMAX SHU range was shaped like a rectangle, with cells down one side of two long corridors. Four recreation cells separated by chain-link walls and with chain-link, open-air ceilings were located in the middle of the rectangular range. MDC staff members used a multipurpose room located at the end of the ADMAX SHU range for medical examinations, strip searches, and meetings. A room adjacent to the multipurpose room was used as a lieutenant's office.
The ADMAX SHU was separated from the regular SHU by an area containing a holding cell, the SHU lieutenant's office, and a visiting area where attorneys and family members met with the September 11 detainees. These visits occurred in "non-contact" rooms, meaning a clear partition precluded any physical contact between parties.
As described in the Detainee Report, the MDC confined the September 11 detainees under highly restrictive conditions. For example, the MDC instituted a four-man hold restraint policy with respect to moving the detainees. This meant that whenever a detainee was taken from his cell, he was escorted by three officers and a lieutenant at all times. During routine escorts on the ADMAX SHU, the detainees also were handcuffed behind their backs and placed in leg restraints. When they were escorted to visits, interviews, or out of the MDC, the detainees were handcuffed in front, restrained in a waist chain, and placed in leg restraints.
On approximately October 5, 2001, as a result of an incident involving a detainee who alleged that he was injured by MDC staff members, the MDC instituted a policy requiring officers to videotape detainees with handheld video cameras whenever they were outside their assigned cells, including when they first arrived at the MDC.6 As described below, however, we found that staff members did not always adhere to this policy.
As we discussed in the Detainee Report, we recognize that the impact of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, was particularly pronounced for people living or working in the New York City area. Some of the MDC staff members lost relatives, friends, and colleagues in the attacks. Moreover, the staff was working under difficult conditions on the ADMAX SHU, with many working 12-hour shifts, six or seven days a week, for extended periods of time. In addition, based on the vague label attached to the detainees by the FBI, the MDC staff initially was led to believe that the detainees could be terrorists or that they may have played a role in the September 11 attacks.
Many of the staff members we interviewed described the atmosphere at the MDC immediately after September 11 as emotionally charged. One of the lieutenants currently at the MDC said the staff "had a great deal of anger" after September 11 and that it was a chaotic time at the MDC. Another lieutenant, one of the lieutenants responsible for escorting detainees, stated that upon entering the institution the detainees were handed over to teams of five to seven officers who were "spiked with adrenaline." He said that there were some officers on the escort teams who were "getting ready for battle" and "talking crazy." Another lieutenant responsible for escorting detainees similarly described the officers as "high on adrenaline."
Even though the atmosphere was emotionally charged, none of the current or former staff members we interviewed suggested that the terrorist attacks justified engaging in abusive behavior towards the detainees. To the contrary, nearly all of the MDC staff members we interviewed asserted that they and other staff members always behaved professionally with the detainees.
Yet, as we describe below, these staff members' depictions of their actions were undermined substantially by the consistent allegations of the detainees, the statements of several other MDC staff members, the statements of senior BOP officials, and the videotapes we reviewed.
In mid-October 2001, the BOP's Office of Internal Affairs (OIA) first referred to the OIG several allegations of physical abuse at the MDC. The OIG's New York Field Office (NYFO) initiated a criminal investigation into allegations that several detainees were slammed against walls by MDC staff members when they first arrived at the MDC. The NYFO interviewed the detainees who made allegations, obtained their medical records, and interviewed several MDC staff members. In conducting this investigation, the NYFO consulted with prosecutors from the Department's Civil Rights Division (CRT) and the United States Attorney's Office (USAO) for the Eastern District of New York.
In addition to the allegations investigated by the NYFO, the detainees made other allegations of physical and verbal abuse against MDC staff members. The CRT assigned some of these additional allegations to the FBI for investigation, and the OIG referred several allegations to the BOP OIA for investigation.
On September 25, 2002, the CRT and the USAO declined criminal prosecution of the MDC staff members who were the focus of the NYFO's investigation. However, even if a matter is declined criminally, the OIG can continue that investigation to determine if there was misconduct that should result in disciplinary or other administrative action. The OIG therefore pursued this investigation as an administrative matter after prosecution was declined.
Other allegations of detainee abuse assigned to the FBI and the BOP OIA also were considered and declined for criminal prosecution. In March 2003, the OIG took over all of the cases that had been referred to the FBI and the BOP OIA and consolidated them into a comprehensive administrative investigation into allegations that some MDC staff members physically and verbally abused some September 11 detainees. This administrative investigation was led by two OIG attorneys, one of whom is a former federal prosecutor in the Public Integrity Section of the Department. This report describes the results of our investigation.
The relevant time period under review was from September 2001 to August 2002, when the detainees were housed in the ADMAX SHU of the MDC. Our review focused solely on complaints at the MDC.
After consolidating approximately 30 detainees' reported allegations against approximately 20 MDC staff members, we sorted the allegations of physical abuse into the following six categories:
The detainees also alleged that MDC staff members verbally abused them by referring to them as "terrorists" and other offensive names; threatened them; cursed at them; and made offensive comments during strip searches.
In the OIG's review of these allegations, we conducted more than 115 interviews of detainees, MDC staff members, and other individuals. The staff members we interviewed primarily were correctional officers and lieutenants who had been assigned to the ADMAX SHU after September 11, 2001, or were involved in escorting the detainees on and off the ADMAX SHU. Almost all of the interviews of the current staff members were administratively compelled, meaning that the employees were required to appear and answer questions.7 In many cases a union representative, who also was a staff member at the MDC, attended the interview with the employees.
In addition to the correctional officers and lieutenants, we interviewed MDC management officials, internal affairs investigators, and the physician's assistant who was responsible for the detainees' medical needs and evaluations, including examining injuries and monitoring detainees' health during hunger strikes. We also interviewed a senior BOP official who until this year oversaw correctional operations at the BOP during the relevant period, and a senior BOP official who has been responsible since 2000 for training new BOP officers on restraint and escort techniques.
We also interviewed federal officers, mostly from the former INS, who were involved in transporting the detainees to the MDC. In addition, we interviewed an attorney for one of the detainees who visited his client at the MDC and said that he witnessed abuse.
We reviewed medical records and incident reports for the detainees from the MDC's files. We also reviewed MDC videotapes, including hundreds of tapes showing detainees being moved around the facility, tapes from cameras in the detainees' cells, and several tapes depicting officers using force in specific operations against certain detainees. As will be detailed later in this report, MDC officials repeatedly told the OIG that videotapes of general detainee movements no longer existed. That information was inaccurate. In late August 2003, the OIG discovered more than 300 videotapes at the MDC, primarily spanning the period from early October through November 2001, and we reviewed all of those tapes. While these tapes substantiated many of the detainees' allegations, detainees indicated to us that abuse dropped off precipitously after the video cameras were introduced.
This report is divided into three main sections. First, the report discusses the evidence regarding allegations that the detainees were physically and verbally abused at the MDC. Second, the report describes several issues of concern relating to the systemic treatment of the detainees at the MDC. Finally, the report offers recommendations to address the issues discussed in this report.
In an appendix to this report, we provide to the BOP our findings on specific MDC staff members, current and former, who handled the detainees. That section of the report will not be released publicly because of the privacy interests of those individuals as well as the potential of disciplinary proceedings against them. In the Appendix, we recommend that the BOP consider taking disciplinary action against ten current BOP employees, counseling two current MDC employees, and informing employers of four former staff members about our findings against them. We also recommend that the BOP take appropriate disciplinary action against several unidentified staff members who we observed on videotapes physically abusing detainees or behaving unprofessionally.