[Pnews] Why is US holding Palestinian charity workers in "little Gitmos"?

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jul 24 18:05:52 EDT 2014

  Why is US holding Palestinian charity workers in "little Gitmos"?

Charlotte Silver <http://electronicintifada.net/people/charlotte-silver>

24 July 2014

Noor Elashi <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/noor-elashi> has not 
been able to hug her father for more than five years. Each time she 
visits him at United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, they must 
communicate through a wall of Plexiglass. "It is unnecessarily cruel," 
she told The Electronic Intifada.

Her father, Ghassan Elashi, is one of the Holy Land Five 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/holy-land-5>. He and four other US 
citizens have been prosecuted for their work with the Holy Land 
Foundation, a charity shut down by executive order in 2001. The case 
against them rested on a claim that the groups in the occupied West Bank 
and Gaza Strip <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/gaza> financed by the 
Holy Land Foundation 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/holy-land-foundation> were 
affiliated to Hamas <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/hamas>. The 
claim was spurious: the State Department aid agency USAID funded some of 
the same groups.

Ghassan Elashi <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/ghassan-elashi> is 
paying a high price for his solidarity with fellow Palestinians. For the 
past five years, he has been in Marion's Communication Management Unit 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/communications-management-units> (CMU).

Visiting Ghassan is an ordeal. To see him last May, Noor and her younger 
sister had to travel almost 1,000 miles from their home in New York City 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/new-york-city>. The closest airport 
to Marion is in St. Louis, Missouri. At night, with no traffic, it is a 
two-and-a-half hour drive from the airport to the prison.

Ghassan had previously been held in Texas 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/texas>, where the entire Elashi 
family used to live (and some of them, including Noor's mother, still 
do). At that time, Noor was able to see him every weekend. Now she can 
only do so once or twice a year.

The CMU at Marion was opened by the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 2008. 
It is one of two such units in the country (the other is in Terre Haute, 
Indiana). These units are often called "little Gitmos" because they bear 
similarities to Guantanamo Bay 

Prisoners are held in solitary confinement 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/solitary-confinement>. The legality 
of the incarceration regime is questionable --- the Center for 
Constitutional Rights 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/center-constitutional-rights> has 
dubbed CMUs "experimental" as they are not subject to clear guidelines; 
instead the Bureau of Prisons has simply made up the rules as it goes 
along. And most of the inmates who have been held in the CMUs --- more 
than 100 out of 178 men --- are Muslim 

    Blanket of surveillance

CMUs envelop their inmates with a blanket of surveillance, within the 
prison walls as well as on their communication with friends and family, 
making contact and visits not only infrequent but under conditions that 
severely limit personal interaction. Inmates at a CMU are allowed two 
15-minute phone calls a week and a total of eight hours of non-contact 
visits a month. Other federal prisons allot inmates 300 minutes of 
telephone calls and 49 hours of contact visits.

"Yes, there's an injustice in imprisoning him and the other men in the 
first place, but there is a greater injustice in limiting their 
communication with their family," Noor Elashi said.

In May 2009, four of the Holy Land Five were transferred 
to CMUs. (The fifth, Abdulrahman Odeh, was brought to another prison in 
southern California.) Two of the five, Shukri Abu Baker and Mohammed 
El-Mezain, were held at the CMU in Terre Haute but have subsequently 
been moved 
to a different unit of that prison.

It is significant that a CMU was established at Marion. In 1963, United 
States Penitentiary Marion replaced San Francisco's 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/san-francisco> notorious Alcatraz as 
the harshest incarceration facility in the nation --- the so-called "end 
of the line" prison. USP Marion held those men in the US penal system 
deemed "difficult to control," placing them in solitary confinement and 
forcing them to undergo a new kind of "behavior modification" therapy.

Eventually an entire wing of the prison, called the control unit 
<http://people.umass.edu/%7Ekastor/ceml_articles/cu_in_us.html>, would 
be dedicated to this type of "rehabilitative" incarceration. In 1983 a 
couple of inmates killed two guards in the control unit, precipitating a 
brutal crackdown which would lead, ultimately, to the entire prison 
being run in the same manner as the control unit --- with 23-hour 
lockdown and restrictions of visits and other privileges --- for the 
next 23 years. It would be the prototype for today's so-called Supermax 

    Denial of rights

A district court in Washington, DC is considering the final arguments 
for summary judgment in a four-year-old case brought by the Center for 
Constitutional Rights against CMUs. In the case, the CCR argues that the 
government violates CMU prisoners' rights under the US constitution, 
including the rights to due process in legal proceedings and the 
prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments.

The CCR filed for the summary judgment in late April after obtaining 
documents demonstrating there was no due process in determining who is 
placed in a CMU.

The CCR's case was originally filed on behalf of five CMU prisoners and 
two of their wivess, but a ruling in their favor would have broader 
impact. A CCR lawyer, Rachel Meeropol, told The Electronic Intifada that 
the the center is trying to show that this type of detention is 

The CCR's work has already had some results. On the eve of CCR's lawsuit 
in March 2010, the Bureau of Prisons moved a man from a CMU for the 
first time since these units had been opened. Some other prisoners have 
similarly been moved from CMUs since then.

    Singling out Islam

A 2006 report <http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/BOP/e0609/final.pdf> 
issued by the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General 
planted the first seed for the creation of the CMUs. The report 
determined that existing prison facilities and guards were not equipped 
to recognize or prevent "radicalization" of inmates, or inmates with 
"extreme ideology." (The only "ideology" specifically referred to in the 
report was Islam.) It recommended that "The FBI should continue to 
develop and reinforce procedures for interacting with the BOP [Bureau of 
Prisons] regarding international terrorist inmates."

Publicly, the Bureau of Prisons responded to the report with assurances 
that it had established 
<http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/testimony/283.pdf> a 
counterterrorism Unit (CTU) and a system of liaison 
<http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/BOP/e0609/app8.htm> between the 
prisons and the FBI <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/fbi> to monitor 
and report any attempts to "radicalize" among the prison populations.

But privately something else was taking place. Three months after the 
Department of Justice report was published --- in December 2006 --- the 
Bureau of Prisons transferred fifteen men to the CMU at Terre Haute, 
Indiana, where the unit had been carved out of the prison's former death 

    Erosion of civil liberties

The concept of of "radicalization" among Muslims has fostered a 
dangerous, terrifying erosion of Muslims' civil liberties in America 
since the 11 September 2001 attacks, and has been used to justify a 
proliferation of preemptive prosecution.

The theory of "radicalization" places all Muslims on a path that could 
lead toward terrorist activity. Seeing all Muslims as potential 
terrorists has warranted the construction of a massive architecture 
within the criminal justice system that enables the FBI to entrap and 
prosecute hundreds of potential "terrorists" before a crime has been 

A report 
<http://www.projectsalam.org/Inventing-Terrorists-study.pdf> published by Project 
Salam, an organization dedicated to monitoring terrorism prosecutions 
and convictions, finds that over 72 percent of "terrorist" convictions 
were prosecuted under the dubious legal theory of preemptive prosecution.

"This means that these men are basically not dangerous to the American 
public. They should never have been put in there in the first place," 
Steve Downs, attorney and founder of Project Salam, told The Electronic 

Analyzing the Department of Justice's 2010 list of 399 convicted 
"terrorists," the report asserts that this kind of preemptive 
prosecution is a weapon in the government's arsenal for the domestic 
"war on terror."

Downs argued, however, that there is no "war" --- just a lot of trumped 
up prosecutions that "help the government give the impression that there 
is a terrorist army out there."

"CMUs are important because it pretends that these people are very 
dangerous --- the 'worst of the worst' --- like at Guantanamo. But, 
remember, 80 percent of those men ended up being innocent," he said.

Since the Supreme Court rejected a review of the Holy Land Five, Texas 
attorney Gary Udashen has been representing the men. They are now 
an application for a writ of /habeas corpus/, hoping to nullify the 
convictions and sentences.

Noor Elashi is hopeful that the Center for Constitutional Rights case 
could help move her father to a prison that is closer to her family, 
"but of course our ultimate hope is for him to be exonerated."

/Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in San Francisco. Follow her on 
Twitter: @CharESilver <http://twitter.com/CharESilver>./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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