The Dirty Little Secret of Deaths in Detention

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

In today’s New York Times, reporter Nina Bernstein authors a compelling narrative about Ahmad Tanveer, a Pakistani New Yorker whose 2005 death was only publicly revealed today — nearly four years after he passed away in anonymity at the Monmouth County Correctional Facility in Freehold, N.J.. Despite efforts by a number of news organizations and groups like the ACLU to get Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release any and all information in their possession about every detainee who has died in their custody, Tanveer’s case was not uncovered until the ACLU sued for information, and the Times diligently pushed hard for the truth. As Bernstein writes in her piece today, Tanveer’s case “underscores the secrecy and lack of legal accountability that continue to shield [our nation’s immigration detention] system from independent oversight.”

The Times’ story today is the direct result of thousands of documents obtained by the ACLU from ICE and other Department of Homeland Security entities through a Freedom of Information Act request filed in June 2007, and a subsequent lawsuit filed one year later. Tom Jawetz, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project, has spent months poring through the documents and analyzing what they reveal — including Tanveer’s previously unknown death. We worked with Bernstein to cultivate this story, which includes some very strong original reporting that shows how it is that the death of a man in the custody of the U.S. government could so easily slip through the cracks. For years, ICE has been allowed to create a makeshift system of immigration detention centers across the country with little to no oversight, and no mandate for accountability or transparency. The result: hundreds of thousands of immigrants each year are thrown into detention facilities where they live for weeks, months and in some cases even years on end with little contact with the outside world. They have no access to adequate medical care, even in the face of life or death emergencies.

Among the documents that Bernstein references in her story and which were obtained by the ACLU is a two-page handwritten letter from one of Tanveer’s fellow detainees who pleads for an investigation into the death. The letter documents how Tanveer complained about severe chest pain to an officer who made him wait for two hours before a nurse checked his blood pressure and called an ambulance. By then it was too late: Tanveer died upon arrival at the emergency room.

A second document obtained by the ACLU, a memo from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General which was drafted about a month after Tanveer’s death, refers Tanveer’s case to ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The memo makes clear that ICE was under no obligation to report back to the OIG any of its findings. No investigative report by ICE has yet been produced — maybe someone should have required a response.

The callousness with which our government’s officials have too often treated the deaths of immigrant detainees in their custody is nothing short of a national disgrace. But at long last, a full picture of the failings of our government to ensure adequate medical care and provide necessary oversight is finally beginning to come into focus.

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Once upon a time the United States Of America was an inspiration to the entire
world because of the Bill of Rights and the priciples of the Declaration of Independance.From the French Revolution to The U.N. Charter these principles have protected the rights of millions of people who would never even come close to the U.S.
Now however when people think of America,they think about Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot Act.
Personaly I hope Dubya is well and truely proud of himself.

anon commenter

Thank you for bringing this to light - it's nothing short of despicable.

Equally horrific is the extra-legal, extra-judicial system that is in play all across these United States. Good people - law-abiding people - are subjected to daily harassment in their communities. If a person relocates, the harassment begins in the new locale. This is going on in plain sight and no one is doing anything about it. Those who complain are dismissed and labeled "crazy." Some may be mentally ill, but others are not. Some say that the goals of these programs are as follows: institutionalization (prison or a psychiatric facility), suicide, and/or financial ruin.

The rule of law is dead in America. These sorts of practices are not consistent with the America I thought I knew. What will the ACLU do to help?


Although despicable in how unfair this man, and perhaps countless others were and still are treated, we should put more energy in providing health care of free citizens who did no wrong. Once we get that fixed, then we should concentrate on the health of inmates of all sorts.
Its just odd that some prisons provide good health care for inmates while people who work and support families get little to no health care

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