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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Justice and 9/11 Detainees: Critical Report

Aired May 30, 2003 - 20:15   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: On to a developing story now. CNN has learned that the Justice Department's inspector general has had some very strong criticism for the government and its handling of immigrant detainees since 9/11. The potentially hard-hitting report is expected to be released as early as Monday.
Our justice correspondent Kelli Arena has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hady Hassan Omar says 73 days in solitary confinement drove him into a depression so deep, he wanted to kill himself.

HADY HASSAN OMAR, DETAINEE: I was confused and afraid.

ARENA: Omar, an Egyptian immigrant, was arrested on September 12, 2001, at his mother-in-law's house in Arkansas. He had bought an airline ticket at this Kinko's in Florida in late August, the very same place that September 11 hijacker Mohammad Atta bought a ticket just the day before.

Omar was never charged with anything related to terrorism. He was accused of violating his visa.

He says his humiliation started with a body cavity search.

OMAR: I was videotaped in front of a crowd of people while I was searched. And the -- they served me pork in prison. However, I told them from the first day that I can't eat pork, and it's against my religion.

ARENA: Omar is suing the government, claiming his treatment amounted to torture.

OMAR: When we make mistakes, we go to prison, and we're held accountable for what we do. And it should be the same way with the government when they make mistakes.

ARENA: CNN learned the Justice Department's inspector general has found significant problems in the way immigration detainees like Omar were treated. Sources say the inspector general will report there was an unwritten policy, no bond for immigration detainees until they were cleared by the FBI, that the clearing process had low priority, was understaffed. Detainees were held much longer than necessary, and that there was insufficient oversight of prison conditions.

In defense, Justice officials say they, quote, "believe the report is fully consistent with what the courts have ruled, that the department's actions are fully within the law." In the past, the Justice Department has made no apologies for using every legal tool to prevent a future terrorist attack.

VIET DINH, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Each and every single arrest and detention that's been made by the Department of Justice since September 11 in connection to the events of that tragic day have been based upon an individualized predicate, either a violation of immigration law, a violation of criminal law, or pursuant to a judicially issued material witness warrant.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA: The inspector general's report is expected to reignite controversy over how far the Justice Department has gone to fight terrorism. And it looks like the department is ready. After our piece aired earlier this evening, Justice officials released a fact sheet on the former detainee that we profiled, Hady Omar, disputing that any of his rights had been violated, Daryn.

KAGAN: Kelli, how much does -- will this go beyond this report? Do you expect any changes in how the department operates?

ARENA: Well, the Justice Department says it has already implemented some of the suggestions that the inspector general made. Better communication between, for example, when they taught to the Bureau of Prisons, they're going to tell them exactly what people are being held, what charges they're being held on, and how they should be segregated.

So there's information that's already flowing. Lots of changes made. But this report is expected, like I said, to reignite the controversy. And you have some people that are saying that perhaps it will provide ammunition for former detainees who are trying to sue the government.

KAGAN: Kelli Arena in Washington. Kelli, thank you for that.

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