consulates of 10 countries, offering legal assistance to innocent people caught up in the dragnet. American rights and liberties “extend to all individuals in our country,” Romero declared. Foreign officials were hesitant at first, and surprised that an American organization was offering to challenge its own government. But they did eventually provide names of detainees and even immigration file numbers that the ACLU suspects the consulates had obtained from the U.S. government — information the government had withheld from the ACLU.
“I had heard of this civil-liberties group in many TV shows and talk shows,” said Mohammad Hafeez, the consul general of Pakistan in New York. “But they become more relevant when you confront the situation when your nationals are under detention.”
The ACLU hired a documentary filmmaker to interview families and attorneys of detainees and, in some cases, detainees themselves. With information from the consulates, the filmmaker was able to chronicle the difficulties of victims like Mohammed Gondal, a 45-year-old Pakistani who spent 125 days in jail. Gondal, who was not charged with any crime related to terrorism, said, “I’m not afraid from investigate. I’m worried about my health . . . Before, very nice country, very peaceful. I like it. Now, I think I not ever come back.”
The ACLU used portions of its interviews with Gondal and other detainees to bring their plight home to the American people. Public service announcements were
broadcast without charge in more than 60 markets through the generosity of stations that contributed more than $500,000 in airtime — giving listeners access to people the government had shut away. In their own voices, detainees spoke, sometimes haltingly, about being held for months; about not being allowed to phone an attorney or family members for up to three weeks; and in some cases, about their enduring love for America. ANTHONY D. ROMERO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE ACLU, POINTED OUT: “THE MORE QUESTIONS AROSE ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT’S TREATMENT OF THESE INDIVIDUALS, THE TIGHTER THE VEIL OF SECRECY WAS DRAWN. THIS HAS TO OFFEND US AS AMERICANS.” Another Pakistani, Iqbal Tihar, had been seeking legal permission to stay in the U.S. since 1992 — and still wanted to make his home here, even after two and a half months in jail. “My daughter is U.S. citizen, I want to stay here, is good life,” he said. “You can eat good, you can make good money. Three months I bought a car. In my country, I work whole life, cannot buy a car . . . Here I can do everything.”
The ACLU drafted model pleadings for immigrants who remained in jail after their immigration charges were resolved. Most of the 1,200 people rounded up after Sept. 11 were taken into custody on visa or other minor immigration violations, and not charged with terrorism-related crimes. Under the law, they should have been freed or deported after resolution of the immigra- tion charges — but an undetermined number were not, even if they agreed to be deported and the country of origin agreed to take them back. The FBI continued to hold