1 Man Still Locked Up From 9/11 Sweeps

The Associated Press
Saturday, October 14, 2006; 10:49 PM

-- 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.

His name is Ali Partovi. And according to the Department of Homeland Security, he is the last to be held of about 1,200 Arab and Muslim men swept up by authorities 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 that all of those who had been arrested had 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 _ Partovi _ is still being held. The Department of Homeland Security, which enforces immigration law among its many duties, insists he really is the last one in custody.

"Certainly it's not our goal as an agency to keep anyone detained indefinitely," said DHS 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.

And so he remains, a curious remnant of a desperate time.


Within hours of the Sept. 11 attacks _ before it was even clear if they were over _ the FBI was ordered to identify the terrorists who had managed to slip so smoothly into American society and to catch anyone who might have been working with them. The FBI operation was called PENTTBOM; it was swift and fierce, and the stakes couldn't have been higher.

When in doubt, the orders came, arrest now and ask questions later. To make this easier, law enforcement officials were authorized to use immigration charges as needed. The risk of allowing terrorists to slip away just because there wasn't ample evidence to hold them on terror charges could not be tolerated. And thus hundreds of individuals who were not terrorists, nor associated with terrorists, were temporarily taken into city, county and federal custody.

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