Lawyer beat U.S. government in 1st case on abuse of detainees
Working at the Urban Justice Center here, Yun Hye-young, 38, protects immigrants whose rights have been violated.
On Sept. 30th, 2001, just days after the attacks of Sept. 11, Ihab Ilmagarabi, a 38-year-old citizen of Egypt and restaurant employee in New York, was arrested in Queens. On Nov. 2, 37-year-old Javed Iqbal, a Pakistani national, was also arrested on Long Island.
Suspected of being involved in the attack, they were kept in a federal detention center in Brooklyn. They were beaten, and in one horrifying encounter, were sodomized with a flashlight, causing massive bleeding.
On May 3, 2004, the Urban Justice Center filed a case against 20 people for torture. Among those sued were Attorney General John Ashcroft and the former warden and guards at the Brooklyn facility.
Both men were married to American citizens, but did not have valid immigration documents, and so were deported from the United States after their release in August, 2002. Mr. Ilmagarabi is now living in Alexandria, Egypt, and says he still suffers from the side effects of his abuse.
Ms. Yun took on his case and drew up an agreement with the federal government that Mr. Ilmagarabi be paid $300,000 in compensation.
It was the first lawsuit filed and won against the U.S. government by an indirect victim of its “War Against Terror.” The case attracted a great deal of attention in the media for its likelihood of setting a legal precedent. Ms. Yun was interviewed in her office in Manhattan last week.
“It’s only the beginning,” Ms. Yun said. She said she would take on cases that involve immigrants with similar experiences.
At the age of 11, Ms. Yun immigrated to the United States with her parents. She studied religion at Columbia University as an undergraduate and at Harvard University for her masters’ degree. Later, she attended the City University of New York’s law school and became an attorney. Rather than taking high-paying positions at law firms, she has worked for the non-profit center for three years. She said she wanted to help the underprivileged.
Q. What is the meaning of this lawsuit?
A. The government has not officially acknowledged its faults, but the fact that it would pay indemnities is important. In September 2005, government officials including former Attorney General John Ashcroft petitioned for an exemption so that their names would be dropped from the defendants’ list. They claimed that the Sept. 11 attack was a national emergency and they were hence not accountable. The court, however, dismissed their claims, saying even if that were the case, the constitution must be abided by.
How many people were arrested after Sept. 11?
More than 1,000 people, including immigrants from South Asia and Muslim nations and illegal immigrants, were arrested. There was [a great deal of] abusive treatment as well. The government treated them badly and discriminated against them because of their birthplace and religion. The government’s decision to pay compensation is important in that regard.
What does the Urban Justice Center do?
It is a non-profit foundation with 50 lawyers that fights for justice. I work in the area of community development. I deal with infringements against illegal immigrants and underprivileged workers.
Is there a reason that you didn’t choose to work for a law firm?
I wanted to work for social justice. Even if I were not a lawyer, I would have done the same thing. Before I became a lawyer, I worked for other non-profit foundations like the Asian American Federation of New York. I am also an executive at an association for Asian community rights. If an opportunity arrives, I would like to work for the Korean community.
by Ahn Jun-yong
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