Sunday, January 27, 2008


Hartford Business Journal


Contract With Feds
Codifies Secret
Political Prison System

AG’s office contests FOIC
over documents about federal detainees
held in state prisons

By Laura Schreier
Hartford Business Journal Staff Writer

Federal officials admit they keep detainees in covert prisons around the world, most notably at Guantanamo Bay, where many were held for years before their names were released to the public.

But it comes as a surprise to some state officials that federal detainees are also held, secretly, right here in Connecticut.

It’s all part of a contract between state and federal authorities: In exchange for a per-inmate fee, state officials agree to house federal prisoners arrested by homeland security.

Connecticut has had such a contract with the federal government since 1995, but it was only after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that new regulations clamped down on information about those prisoners.

According to legal arguments by state Assistant Attorney General Henri Alexandre, state authorities are prohibited from releasing any information about the federal detainees held behind bars in Connecticut prisons.

That means that Connecticut could be holding detainees at any time, without a formal charge, said Lisa Siegel, counsel with the state’s Freedom of Information Commission.

“This is a surprise to all of us, that there are secret prisons [in the state],” Siegel said. “The real harm of this regulation is that people are held now — we can’t get any information on them.”

The situation came to light during a recent FOI commission hearing between state officials and a former detainee who claims he just wants to know why he was locked up. The case of Rashad El Badrawi highlighted the detainee agreement between state and federal authorities and raised questions about whether detainees’ situations can be made public or not.

Researcher Detained

In 2004, foreign-born Badrawi was living in Hartford, working as a researcher at the University of Connecticut Health Center. He’d been in the country — legally — for about a decade, according to his lawyers’ statement, and had never been accused of a crime, much less seen the inside of a prison.

In October of that year, immigration and customs enforcement officers came for Badrawi. He was “taken to the Hartford Correctional Center, photographed, strip-searched and placed in the general population of convicted criminals,” according to the lawyers’ memorandum.

Badrawi then agreed to leave the country voluntarily and was told that he’d be flown out of the U.S. in six days’ time. He wasn’t released until nearly two months later.

Now, Badrawi wants to know why he was detained in the first place. In his memorandum to the FOI Commission, he asks: Why was he treated so harshly? Why was he kept so much longer than the original six days?

Looking For Answers

He was released years ago but still doesn’t know the answers to those questions.

The answers may lie in paperwork that the federal and state government is staunchly fighting to keep out of public view.

Badrawi, who is not currently in the United States, has used Yale University’s Allard K. Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic National Litigation Project to conduct the case. The law clinic requested information from the state concerning his incarceration, including a paper from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center that might detail the FBI’s suspicions about Badrawi. State corrections and public safety officials released only part of the information.

At one point, a public safety official read off part of that NCIC sheet over the phone to one of Badrawi’s representatives, but said that the clinic needed to file a separate FOI request to get a copy of the sheet. The state Department of Public Safety declined the disclosure request, citing federal regulations.

The subsequent battle has essentially been over that single piece of paper, said Bram Elias, a Yale law student working on the case. While the paper may provide some help in answering Badrawi’s questions, Elias doesn’t expect that it will answer everything.

“It is unclear as to why [officials] are so enthusiastic about keeping it out,” Elias said. “We were sort of surprised that they fought as hard as they did.”

The FOI commission sided with Badrawi, and now the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut has a 45-day period to appeal the ruling, said Tom Hennick, a spokesman with the FOI Commission.

Arguments between the two sides focused largely on a federal regulation that prohibits disclosure about federal detainees — even those held in state or local corrections facilities. Badrawi’s lawyers argued that the regulation does not apply to detainees after they are released.

Alexandre, who wrote that Badrawi had been arrested “on grounds of civil immigration violations,” said not only would he refuse to release the information, but that state officials should never have released any information, as they did.

Alexandre argued that as long as the state corrections department maintains its current federal contract regarding federal detainees, Connecticut has no control over what information the public can receive about these prisoners.


Dennie said...

So let me get this straight. The government of the United States of America, supported in part by he State of Connecticut, is secretly holding foreign nationals behind bars without charge and only on suspicion. Now, let us for a second focus on Iran. That same government of the United States of America, led by President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney, complains when Iran holds Americans or others without a rational charge. What do they have to complain about? Nothing! But the prisoners held incommunicado in both the USA and Iran have plenty to complain about, just as the US and Iranian tortured prisoners do! Where is the moral compass in this country? At one time, we had one. Do we now know where it is?
Dennie Williams, Litchfield

a rose is a rose said...

i couldn't agree with dennie MORE! when we hear of a country torturing OUR men and women we are aghast, we call them savages. yet what do we do? we KNOW we waterboard (which of course IS torture), what DON'T we know? i am all for catching and making terrorists pay. i am ALSO all for the constitution of the united states of america AND let's throw in the geneva convention as well.