[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
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
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.
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
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,"
One of the documents obtained by RAW STORY, titled
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,"
"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
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
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.
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
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
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
Twilight of Democracy: The Bush Plan for America, dubbed a "primer
for citizenship." Her book
for Writers: Using the Power of Your Subconscious will be out in March 2007.
Muriel Kane provided research assistance for this article.
The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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