Indian Detainee Alleges U.S. Torture

Associated Press 01/27/03

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HYDERABAD, India -- The second of two Indian Muslim men held in the United States for 15 months as Sept. 11 suspects claimed Saturday that he was tortured, threatened and kept in solitary confinement for months.

Mohammed Azmath, 37, said he was forced to remain outside in the cold, told he would die in prison, denied access to a lawyer for three months, and kept in solitary confinement for a year, with lights and cameras on him 24 hours a day.

"I was made to stand in freezing temperature of 4 degrees Celsius (25 Fahrenheit) for four to five hours a day to force me to confess a crime I had not committed," Azmath told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Azmath and his friend, Gul Mohammed Shah, 36, became known as the "boxcutter detainees" because they were arrested on a train in Texas on Sept. 12 after law enforcement authorities found two box cutters, hair dye, a knife and several thousand dollars among their belongings.

The FBI did not respond to written and telephoned requests for comment. A U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman, Traci Billingsley, said, "Any allegations of misconduct are taken seriously."

After the two were cleared of any involvement in the Sept. 11 hijackings, they pleaded guilty to credit card fraud and were deported from the United States. They admitted selling 15 fraudulent credit cards for up to $2,000 each on the black market.

Azmath said that he and Shah were targeted because of their ethnicity and religion. Shah was detained for 15 months and returned to his hometown of Hyderabad on Dec. 30, while Azmath returned Friday.

"We, like many others, were singled out on the basis of racial profiling and on the ground that we were Muslims," Azmath said.

When Azmath and Shah returned, Indian police charged them with making false statements on their passport applications. They are out on bail.

During Azmath's detention at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., his wife gave birth to their first child. The 13-month-old Mohammed Bilal sat on his father's lap as Azmath told of his time in U.S. jails.

"When I was shackled, (prison guards) used to bang my chest into the wall. They would put their feet on my shackles and it used to hurt me in my ankles," said Azmath.

During his yearlong solitary confinement, Azmath said, "The lights and cameras would be on 24 hours a day and officers used to come to the door and tell me, 'You will die.' They would use all sorts of abusive words."

Shah told the AP of similar treatment at the same place after he returned to Pakistan.

Azmath said he was most upset that his name and photograph were released to the media without any evidence against him.

His family in Hyderabad saw his picture on television. They had been worried that he might have been a victim of the Sept. 11 terror attacks because he was supposed to fly that day from Newark, N.J. to his new job in Texas.

Azmath said the credit card fraud charges were leveled against him and Shah because authorities had to explain their lengthy detention. "They are arresting innocent people and keeping them in jails for unlimited time and then deporting them. There are no human rights values, everything is being violated and every law is being bent," Azmath said.
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