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Man still held in Sept. 11 sweeps

Published October 15, 2006

In a jail cell at an immigration detention center in Arizona sits a man who is not charged with a crime, not suspected of a crime, not considered a danger to society.

But he has been in custody for five years.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, Ali Partovi is the last to be held of about 1,200 Arab and Muslim men swept up in the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

There has been no full accounting of all of these individuals. Nor has a promised federal policy to protect against unrestricted sweeps been produced.

Human rights groups tried to track the detainees; members of Congress denounced the arrests. They all believed the detainees had all been deported, released or processed through the criminal justice system.

Just this summer, it was reported that an Algerian man, Benemar "Ben" Benatta, was the last detainee, and that his transfer to Canada had closed the book on the post-9/11 sweeps.

But now the Associated Press has learned that at least one person is still being held. Partovi, who is representing himself, declined to be interviewed. He has filed seven lawsuits claiming he is a victim of civil rights abuses and demands between $5-million and $10-million in restitution. The most recent was filed in July.

The Department of Homeland Security insists he really is the last one in custody.

"Certainly it's not our goal as an agency to keep anyone detained indefinitely," said department spokesman Dean Boyd. Boyd said the department would like to remove Partovi from the United States but that he refuses to return to his homeland of Iran.

Within hours of the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI was ordered to identify the terrorists and to catch anyone who might have been working with them.

When in doubt, the orders came, arrest now and ask questions later. In the end, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's call for "aggressive detentions" in the unprecedented sweeps netted more than 1,200 individuals in less than two months.

Eventually, Congress, the Justice Department's inspector general, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and Arab and Muslim activists demanded that these individuals be accounted for.

To date that hasn't occurred.

Here's what is known: 762 of the 1,200 arrestees were charged with immigration violations at the behest of the FBI because agents thought they might be associated with terrorism. Partovi was one of these 762. Much as Partovi used a false passport, nearly all of these detainees had violated immigration laws.

Unlike Partovi, almost everyone was either deported or released within a few months.

Partovi was arrested in Guam in the weeks after Sept. 11, trying to enter the United States using a fraudulent passport, said his former attorney, Curtis Charles Van de Veld. Partovi was sentenced to 175 days in custody, which he had already served by the time he pleaded guilty in 2002. Then he was turned over from U.S. Marshals Service custody to the Department of Homeland Security.

There were still at least 438 other individuals who were not accounted for. Most of those individuals, said Justice Department officials, were released within days. But at least 93 were charged with federal crimes and processed through the courts, and an unknown number were deemed material witnesses.

[Last modified October 15, 2006, 01:55:27]

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