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Lawyers sue over man's treatment at US-Canada border

Excessive force allegedly used

CHICAGO -- When Akif Rahman returns home to the United States after visiting family in Canada this holiday weekend, he doesn't expect a warm welcome.

The last time Rahman, 32, drove over the border, guards in Detroit stopped the Chicago man, handcuffed him to a chair, and grilled him for six hours about whether he has terrorist connections, Rahman said. Officials detained his wife and two children in a small, dirty office while Rahman was questioned, he said.

He has been stopped five times.

''I really need to find out what's going on," Rahman said last month at a news conference in the Illinois ACLU offices in the Loop. ''I can travel to any country -- Canada or otherwise -- and get through in a few minutes, but coming back home . . ."

On Tuesday, lawyers from the Illinois chapter of the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Homeland Security department officials, saying Rahman's Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights were violated when he was allegedly seized and searched with excessive force, then not allowed to make phone calls.

''They're using a very, very crude screening system," said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the Illinois ACLU. ''There are thousands and thousands and thousands of names on various watchlists our government keeps. We don't know whose name he is similar to."

In a letter to Rahman, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement department stated Rahman's name is a ''near match" to another person in the National Crime Information Center list maintained by the FBI.

Grossman said he hopes to see a better screening system as well as stricter regulations limiting what border guards can do.

Cherise Miles, a spokeswoman for US Customs and Border Protection, said agency officials have no comment on pending litigation.

The problems began in spring 2004, when Rahman, the owner of a computer software company in Chicago, was detained for two hours at Los Angeles International Airport, Rahman said. He was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from India, ACLU spokesman Edwin Yohnka said. Rahman and his parents are US citizens.

In August 2004, Rahman was again detained for two hours, this time at Chicago O'Hare International Airport. Agents told him they were trying to identify him, though he carried his driver's license, passport, and Social Security card.

Rahman said he then wrote six or seven letters to government agencies to find out why he was being detained. In the meantime, he was stopped twice more. In April, he received a letter from the Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency of the Department of Homeland Security. It states Rahman's detentions resulted from an ''unfortunate misidentification scenario."

Grossman said Rahman's name in Arab-speaking countries is similar to ''John Smith" in English-speaking countries -- and the government is apparently looking for someone connected with terrorism with a name similar to Rahman's.

The letter also states that the government corrected databases but advises Rahman to carry several forms of identification.

Rahman said he was carrying his passport, Social Security card, and Illinois driver's license when he was stopped May 8, this time at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel coming back from visiting family in Canada.

Rahman said border guards ordered him to turn off the car and hand over his keys.

Two other agents took his wife and two children to a room by themselves. Rahman and his wife, Moosada, didn't see each other again for six hours, Rahman said.

Akif Rahman said the agents took him to a room and took his cellphone. He was asked to empty his pockets, then face a wall and spread his feet.

''An officer yelled at me to spread my legs further," Rahman said. ''Before I could do so, the officer kicked my legs apart with great force. He then demanded that I take my shoes off. Before I could complete the request, he kicked one of my shoes off my foot."

From there, he was led to another room and handcuffed to a chair. Then, he said, agents asked him if he knew any of the Sept. 11 hijackers and if he had ever given money to a terrorist group.

''This made me feel like a suspect," Rahman said, ''not an American citizen returning home."

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