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Government Will Pay $300,000 To Settle Muslim Detainee Suit

By Nina Bernstein


The federal government has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by an Egyptian who was among dozens of Muslim men swept up in the New York area after Sept. 11, held for months in a federal detention center in Brooklyn, and deported after being cleared of links to terrorism.

The settlement, filed in federal court late on Monday, is the first the government has made in a number of lawsuits charging that noncitizens were abused and their constitutional rights violated in detentions after the terror attacks.

It removes one of two plaintiffs from a case in which a federal judge ruled last fall that former Attorney General John Ashcroft, the director of the FBI, and other top government officials must answer questions under oath. Government lawyers filed an appeal of that ruling on Friday.

In the settlement, which requires approval by a federal judge in Brooklyn, lawyers for the government asserted that the officials were not admitting any liability or fault. In court papers, they have said that the Sept. 11 attacks created “special factors” — including the need to deter future terrorism — that outweighed the plaintiffs’ right to sue.

It is unclear what the settlement may portend for the government’s stance in another lawsuit, brought as a class action on behalf of hundreds of detainees, that is pending before the same judge. A spokesman for the Justice Department said officials would not comment on the agreement. But lawyers who represent both the Egyptian, Ehab Elmaghraby, who used to run a restaurant near Times Square, and the second plaintiff, a Pakistani who is continuing to pursue the lawsuit, described the outcome as significant.

“This is a substantial settlement and shows for the first time that the government can be held accountable for the abuses that have occurred in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and in prisons right here in the United States,” said one of the lawyers, Alexander A. Reinert, of Koob & Magoolaghan.

The lawsuit accuses Ashcroft and the FBI director, Robert S. Mueller III, of personally conspiring to violate the rights of Muslim immigrant detainees on the basis of their race, religion and national origin, and names a score of other defendants, including Bureau of Prison officials and guards at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.