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Human rights lawyers hail US detainee settlement

Written by: Staff
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NEW YORK, Mar 2 (Reuters) Human rights lawyers took heart from the US government's 300,000 dollar settlement with an Egyptian man rounded up after September 11, saying it boded well for hundreds of other former detainees.

The government on Monday agreed to pay 300,000 dollar to Ehab Elmaghraby -- its first settlement out of hundreds of claims -- though without admitting wrongdoing.

He was one of 762 non-citizens, nearly all Arab or Muslim, who were swept up in the aftermath of September 11 and never charged with participating in the attacks nor with belonging to al Qaeda. Many were deported on immigration violations.

Elmaghraby alleged he was beaten while shackled, confined in a maximum-security cell for up to 23 hours a day, submitted to repeated strip searches and detained for almost a year. He was charged with credit card fraud.

The US government has defended the post-September 11 detentions as a national security necessity in its attempt to prevent another attack.

''A settlement indicates that the government is taking these allegations seriously and that is a good sign for all individuals involved,'' said Rachel Meeropol, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents up to 400 former detainees in a federal class-action suit.

Elmaghraby, who lives in Alexandria, Egypt, was not eligible for the class-action suit, and Meeropol could not comment directly on the implications for her case.

''But we see this settlement as the first step in holding this government accountable for what happened to an entire class of Muslim men who were swept up after September 11 and subject to physical and emotional abuse,'' she said yesterday.

Alex Reinert, one of Elmaghraby's lawyers, said while any future settlement might be impossible to predict, ''it does represent the government taking on some kind of accountability for how it treated detainees in the aftermath of September 11.'' Jamil Dakwar, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, noted any settlement was not legally binding for any future cases but said it would have an ''indirect influence'' on the perception of such cases.

''It could also be a way for the government to pressure lawyers to settle cases and not to go to full trial,'' he said.

The ACLU has cases pending in Washington concerning detainees' rights in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

''The question now is whether the US legal system should treat non-US citizens with other similar cases fairly and provide them with the same rights to remedy and redress with regard to the illegal treatment and torture and abuse against them,'' Dakwar said.

REUTERS DH RAI0740

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