[Ppnews] US prison program isolating Muslim, Middle Eastern prisoners

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Feb 16 16:53:53 EST 2007


Last year Prison Legal News and the ACLU National Prison Project and 
the National Lawyers Guild were among the groups who opposed the 
Bureau of Prisons proposal to expand their isolation of political 
prisoners. That proposal was apparently dropped and this one 
substituted surreptitiously instead.




Documents show new secretive US prison program isolating Muslim, 
Middle Eastern prisoners

http://www.rawstory.com/printstory.php?story=4976


02/16/2007 @ 1:03 pm

Filed by Jennifer Van Bergen



Program in apparent violation of federal law

The US Department of Justice has implemented a secretive new prison 
program segregating "high-security-risk" Muslim and Middle Eastern 
prisoners and tightly restricting their communications with the 
outside world in apparent violation of federal law, according to 
documents obtained by RAW STORY.

Quietly implemented in December, the special "Communications 
Management Unit" (CMU) at a federal penitentiary in Indiana targeting 
Muslim and Middle-Eastern inmates was not implemented through the 
process required by federal law, which stipulates the public be 
notified of any new changes to prison programs and be given the 
opportunity to voice objections. Instead, the program appears to have 
been ordered and implemented by a senior official at the Department 
of Justice.

In April of last year, the US Federal Bureau of Prisons -- part of 
the Department of Justice -- proposed a set of strict new regulations 
and, as required, there was a period of public comment. Human rights 
and civil liberties groups voiced strong concerns about the 
constitutionality of the proposed program.

The program 
<http://thefederalregister.com/d.p/2006-04-03-E6-4766>originally 
proposed was said to be applicable only to terrorists and 
terrorist-related criminals. The American Civil Liberties Union 
(ACLU), however, along with a coalition of other civil liberties 
groups, <http://multiracial.com/site/content/view/1110/49/>objected 
to the language of the regulation as too broad, and potentially 
applicable to non-terrorists and even to those not convicted of a 
crime but merely being held as "witnesses, detainees, or otherwise."

After pushback from civil rights groups, the program appeared to have 
been dropped by the Prisons Bureau, with coalition groups believing 
that they had made their case regarding Constitutional rights. Yet 
documents obtained by RAW STORY show that a similar program, the CMU, 
was surreptitiously implemented in December 2006.

Executive Director Howard Kieffer of Federal Defense Associates, a 
legal group based in California that assists inmates and lawyers of 
inmates on post-conviction defense matters, says the order for the 
program must have been issued by one of the offices which oversee the 
US Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Only three government offices have the authority to issue such 
changes in federal prison operations, and they all fall within the 
senior management of the Justice Department: the office of Harley 
Lappin, the Director of Prisons Bureau, the Office of Legal Counsel, 
or directly from the office of the US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales.

The Public Affairs Office of the Department of Justice and the 
Attorney General referred all requests for comment to the Prisons 
Bureau. As of press time, Felice Ponce, an officer in the Prisons 
Bureau Office of Information, was unable to answer requests to 
confirm the existence of the program, provide details about it, or 
comment on it at all.

Those who had such information at the Bureau were all "out of 
pocket," Ponce said.

Documents obtained by RAW STORY show that the CMU program, instituted 
Dec. 11, 2006 -- shortly after the mid-term elections in which 
Democrats won both chambers of Congress -- is being implemented at 
Terre Haute Federal Correctional Institution in Indiana.

Under the CMU program, telephone communications must be conducted 
using monitored phone lines, be live-monitored by staff, are subject 
to recording, and must be in English only. All letters must be 
reviewed by staff prior to delivery or sending. Visits must be 
non-contact only, live-monitored, and subject to recording in English.

Keiffer asserts that the program, which purports to house high-risk 
inmates for the purpose of better monitoring their communications, 
"is not related to inmate security" at all.

The program "doesn't affect the highest security inmates who are 
still being kept in other high security prisons, where some may be 
allowed greater freedom in communications than the CMU inmates," he 
says. "It affects a class of inmates who would not garner as much 
sympathy as others and who have diminished support in the US."

"It is just like the detentions after 9/11," he adds. "It's profiling."

Calls placed to the FBI were not returned.

The CMU is in apparent violation of the Federal Administrative 
Procedures Act, which explicitly requires that all prison regulations 
be promulgated under that law. Courts have overturned programs that 
have violated this law "half a dozen times over the past ten years," 
Keiffer says.

One of the documents obtained by RAW STORY, titled 
"<http://rawstory.com/images/other/supplement.pdf>Institution 
Supplement," was issued by the Terre Haute facility and given to 
prisoners transferred into this new program. The document states that 
"all contact" between the inmates and "persons in the community" may 
only occur "according to national policy, with necessary adjustments 
indicated herein," indicating that the new program's contact rules 
are the same as normal prison rules except where "adjusted" in the Supplement.

Attorney Peter Goldberger, a Philadelphia-area specialist in criminal 
appeals and former law professor who has 30 years experience dealing 
with federal prisons and inmates, told RAW STORY that the Terre Haute 
Institution Supplement is officially a supplement to the Prison 
Bureau's national Program Statement on Inmate Discipline and Special 
Housing Units, published in the Code of Federal Regulations and last 
amended in 2003.

Keiffer explains that an Institution Supplement cannot exist by 
itself without specific authorization. The CMU Institution Supplement 
states that it is "according to national policy." But Keiffer notes 
that the national Program Statement does not in fact authorize the 
CMU program. In order for the program to be properly authorized, it 
would have to address the particular program parameters, locations, 
specify the inmates to whom it applied, and would have to take into 
account the specific and unique features of that program. The already 
existing national Program Statement does not address the CMU program 
and thus does not authorize it.

Goldberger notes that "what's different" about the program, "is 
limitation of contact with friends, family and outsiders -- instead 
of 300 minutes of telephone time per month, it's one 15 minute call 
per week, which can be reduced in the Warden's discretion to a mere 
three minutes once a month."

"Instead of all-day visiting every week or every other week, it's 
only two hours at a time, twice a month, with no physical contact, 
presumably sitting on opposite sides of a plexiglas window," 
Goldberger continued.

"And all letters, except to lawyers, courts, and Congress, will be 
read and copied, with weeks of delay, instead of cursorily inspected 
and sent right on," he adds. "It's a totally new and different program."

Director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington, 
D.C. Kate Martin told RAW STORY that restrictions of inmate 
communications must be narrowly tailored to serve a specific 
identifiable need of the government. Martin said that there was a 
clear rationale for restricting communications of those who had 
previously handled classified information -- for example a former CIA 
agent who had passed secrets to a foreign government. But with 
individuals who never possessed classified information, she said, 
that rationale doesn't exist.

The government must show that the inmates had been plotting terrorist 
crimes from their cells or some similar scenario, Martin said. 
Without that, the restriction of communication of a group of 
prisoners raises a suspicion that it is actually an effort by the 
government to deny information to the press and public about what it is doing.


Who's in the program?

The federal penitentiary where the most dangerous criminals are held, 
including the Unabomber and the Millennium Bomber, is the maximum 
security prison known as ADMax at Florence, Colorado. The CMU is not 
being implemented there, however; instead it is being implemented in 
Terre Haute Federal Correctional Institution in Indiana.

The CMU is said to be targeting terrorists or suspected terrorists, 
but many being held are not considered high risk or even convicted of 
violent crimes.

According to a letter obtained by RAW STORY, sent by CMU inmate Dr. 
Rafil Dhafir to one of his supporters, the current unit has at 
present only 16 prisoners, but is expected to have 60-70 more added 
soon. Dhafir writes that the CMU "is still not fully understood. The 
staff here is struggling to make sense of the whole situation," and 
says that the prisoners are "so far treated with great respect and 
good accommodation" but "with the new system we will have absolutely 
no privacy." The letter 
<http://www.dhafirtrial.net/2007/02/07/a-letter-from-dr-dhafir-about-his-transfer-and-new-prison-situation>has 
been posted on a support site for Dhafir.

Dr. Dhafir was convicted for violating US sanctions against Iraq, 
because he had sent humanitarian aid to the country during the 
restricted period. Dhafir was not charged with any terrorism related 
activities or a violent offense.

Also in CMU detention are also five of the "Lackawanna Six," a group 
of six American citizens who traveled to Afghanistan before Sept. 11, 
2001 and were indicted for giving material support to Al Qaeda. Yahya 
Goba, one of the group's members -- who turns up as a government 
witness in numerous cases -- is not in the system, although he was 
sentenced to ten years along with the other Lackawanna defendants.


Unconstitutional?

Howard Keiffer believes that the program not only violates federal 
law but the Constitution as well, saying it abridges the prisoners' 
right to freedom of expression and association. These inmates are 
"not able to communicate like other inmates," he said.

James Landrith, Jr., who heads "The Multiracial Activist," an on-line 
journal that covers social and civil liberties issues relating to 
multi-racialism, says the new program sets a "very, very bad precedent."

Landrith says it's "interesting that this administration is trying to 
push these things through covertly" -- things he views as 
unconstitutional restrictions -- "while you have a sitting Vice 
President who could be charged in the short-term future with having 
been involved in outing a CIA agent."

He added that the program "makes it very very hard for someone to 
mount a real defense or appeal when they can't talk to anyone on the outside."

Some say the program smacks of racial or religious profiling.

Paul Wright, the editor of Prison Legal News, told RAW STORY that 
"segregating prisoners based on their race, national origin or 
language directly contradicts the recent US supreme court ruling in 
Johnson v. California which held that the racial segregation of 
prisoners was illegal."

Johnson v. California, a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision, involved 
the segregation of African-American inmates. While the Court noted in 
<http://www.rawstory.com/rawstory.com/images/other/supremecourt_CA_Johnson21507.pdf>its 
decision that it did not decide whether the segregation violated the 
equal protection clause of the Constitution, it nonetheless 
"explicitly reaffirm[ed] that the 'necessities of prison security and 
discipline,' are a compelling government interest justifying only 
those uses of race that are narrowly tailored to address those necessities."

Race, national or ethnic origin, one's status as an alien, or any 
innate or immutable characteristic that a person has no power to 
change must be scrutinized by courts under the same standard: only a 
compelling government interest and a narrowly tailored program is 
held to be constitutional.

Religious discrimination is prohibited by Prison Bureau 
<http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=4ef178d5cf2054b3ce13d3ffc24c9570&rgn=div6&view=text&node=28:2.0.3.3.23.9&idno=28>regulations. 
The regulation states that Bureau "staff shall not discriminate 
against inmates on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, 
disability, or political belief. This includes the making of 
administrative decisions and providing access to work, housing and programs."

Director of the Human and Civil Rights Division of the Muslim 
American Society Freedom Foundation Ibrahim Ramey says his group is 
"deeply concerned about the violation of civil rights of incarcerated 
Muslims" who are targeted by the program.

"The removal and concentration of Muslims" Ramey says, is a 
"violation of the concept of innocent until proven guilty."

Though the inmates have been convicted, Ramey believes the CMU 
appears to be "a precursor to a program of segregation of people by 
religion in federal detention facilities."

"You don't segregate all Jews or all Christians," he adds.

Most of RAW STORY's calls and emails to inmates' attorneys or former 
attorneys were not returned. Several refused to comment. One attorney 
who represented one of the inmates at trial commented that "the new 
facility creates hardships for the family because of the distance and 
restrictions on visitation and phone use, but overall the staff are 
treating the inmates very well; they are very professional in their 
handling of the inmates."

Jennifer Van Bergen is the author of 
<http://www.amazon.com/Twilight-Democracy-Bush-Plan-America/dp/1567512925>The 
Twilight of Democracy: The Bush Plan for America, dubbed a "primer 
for citizenship." Her book 
<http://www.amazon.com/Archetypes-Writers-Using-Power-Subconscious/dp/1932907254>Archetypes 
for Writers: Using the Power of Your Subconscious will be out in March 2007.

Muriel Kane provided research assistance for this article.


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