The stories sound familiar: Muslim prisoners beaten and sexually humiliated by American guards. But it happened in Brooklyn, not Baghdad. - - - - - - - - - - - - By Michelle Goldberg source May 19, 2004 | BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- The American guards took Mohamed Maddy's glasses before they slammed him into the wall. A portly middle-aged father of two, Maddy was crying, trying to move his shoulder in front of him so it would take the blow, but they kept smashing him into the concrete, leaving him with dark purple bruises. Then they told him to strip, and when he balked at removing his underwear -- "I am Muslim, I can't do it," he said -- they screamed, "Fucking Muslim! Take them off!" They made him bend over and said, "Take your hand and open your ass." He sobbed harder as they performed a cavity search. Afterward, they told him to get dressed and put him in handcuffs and leg irons connected by a chain to his waist. They ordered him to run and then stepped on his leg chain so he'd fall down, only to be yanked back up and forced to run again, over and over. Without his glasses, Maddy couldn't see where he was going, but he thinks he was running in circles. Finally he was thrown in a cell. For the first month, the light was left on 24 hours a day. If he tried to shield his eyes and snatch a moment of sleep, the guards would kick the doors. On the rare occasions when he was taken out, he was strip-searched, often twice in the same day, even if he hadn't been out of the guards' sight. Sometimes they did the searches in public. Sometimes they laughed and jeered. An official report later concluded that many of these searches had nothing to do with safety -- they were about punishment and humiliation. Stories like Maddy's have lately been pouring out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but he's never been to those countries. Maddy's ordeal took place at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where 84 of the 762 Muslim immigrants who were detained after Sept. 11 were held. The torture there wasn't nearly as severe as it was at Abu Ghraib, and, according to recent reports, at Guantánamo in Cuba. But there are striking similarities, suggesting that what happened in Iraq may be an escalation of a pattern of human rights violations that began almost as soon as the World Trade Center crumbled. In April 2003, as the war in Iraq dominated the headlines, the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General issued a 239-page report titled "The September 11 Detainees: A Review of the Treatment of Aliens Held on Immigration Charges in Connection with the Investigation of the September 11 Attacks." Then, in December, the Inspector General's Office issued a supplemental 49-page report detailing abuses at the Metropolitan Detention Center, where Maddy was held. In its May 24 issue, Newsweek revealed that attorneys for two detainees are pressing to release 300 hours of videotape that captured the abuses -- tapes that were cited in the reports on the detention center, but that have never been made public. As the reports document, prisoners being held at MDC in connection with Sept. 11 were regularly stripped and sexually humiliated. Prolonged sleep deprivation was common. Guards regularly slammed inmates against walls. Several detainees claimed they were also punched and kicked. In Passaic County Jail, prisoners were menaced with dogs. At several prisons, people were put in solitary confinement for weeks or even months. They were denied access to visitors. Many were never charged with any crime. The reports paint a picture of mass roundups conducted without probable cause, followed by "prolonged confinement for many detainees, sometimes under extremely harsh conditions." It lists some of the rather specious justifications given for classifying people as Sept. 11 detainees. One man was "arrested, detained on immigration charges, and treated as a September 11 detainee because a person called the FBI to report that the [redacted] grocery store in which the alien worked, is operated by numerous Middle Eastern men, 24 hrs -- 7 days a week. Each shift daily has 2 or 3 men ... Store was closed day after crash, reopened days and evenings. Then later on opened during midnight hours. Too many people to run a small store." Something similar seems to have happened in Iraq, where the Red Cross estimated that between 70 and 90 percent of the inmates at Abu Ghraib were innocent. On May 5, a U.N. working group on arbitrary detention issued a statement saying, "According to the information received by the Working Group, the majority of persons in detention in Iraq have been arrested during public demonstrations, at checkpoints and in house raids. They are being considered 'security detainees' or 'suspected of anti-Coalition activities'. The Working Group's Chairperson-Rapporteur is seriously disturbed by the fact that these persons have not been granted access to a court to be able to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, as required by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." Policies of arbitrary detention often lead to coercive interrogation and abuse, says David Cole, professor of law at Georgetown University and author of "Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism." In both America and Iraq, he says, "the approach was to sweep broadly, to pick people up on little or no evidence other than their religious or ethnic identity. That process puts a premium on interrogation because the whole idea is that we don't know how the bad guys are, so your job as an interrogator is to find out who they are through interrogation. When they say we don't know anything about it, it's going to put pressure on interrogators to use coercive methods. Anytime you abandon the presumption of innocence and adopt a broad, sweeping detention policy, it's going to lead to questionable interrogation tactics." It's not clear whether the guards in Brooklyn and those in Baghdad adopted similar tactics independently, or whether they were acting under similar orders. As Seymour Hersh has reported in the New Yorker, the Defense Department authorized policies in Guantánamo and Iraq that were designed to enable interrogations. According to Hersh, they included sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation, "exposure to extremes of cold and heat, and placing prisoners in 'stress positions' for agonizing lengths of time." Milder versions of these methods were employed at MDC, but there's no evidence that guards there were acting under orders from federal officials. Still, says Cole, "[R]eports of [abuse] are so consistent among domestic detainees that it seems it must have been a policy choice. Assuming the best of the policy makers, would assume they're doing it for interrogation purposes." Regardless of who ordered the abuse, prison officials were operating under loosened legal constraints that encouraged mistreatment. "There was a perception of guilt imposed in both cases," says Nancy Chang, senior litigation attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Those detained in America, like those in Guantánamo and Iraq, "were abused as enemy combatants or potential enemy combatants. They were treated quite differently from regular prisoners. They were placed under the most extreme conditions of confinement without any prior determination that they posed a danger." In both the United States and Iraq, the tactics were similar, even if the severity was not.