Suit Challenges Ultra-Restrictive Prison Units

Published on
by
Inter Press Service

Suit Challenges Ultra-Restrictive Prison Units

by
William Fisher

NEW YORK - Two U.S. federal
prisons are being used overwhelmingly to hold Muslim prisoners and
prisoners with unpopular political beliefs, and are practicing
religious profiling, retaliation and arbitrary punishment, according to
a lawsuit filed by the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR).

The suit names U.S.
Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department, the agency
that houses the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) which runs the two units,
one in Terre Haute, Indiana, the other in Marion, Illinois.

"These
units are an experiment in social isolation," said CCR Attorney Alexis
Agathocleous. "People are being put in these extraordinarily
restrictive units without being told why and without any meaningful
review."

At the same time, some prisoners at the experimental
"Communications Management Units" (CMUs) are protesting their being
designated as "terrorists" by the Justice Department, despite never
having been convicted of any terror-related crime.

One such
prisoner is Dr. Rafil Dhafir, an American Iraqi-born upstate-New York
oncologist. He was arrested by 85 federal agents who descended on his
home, handcuffing him in his driveway. Then Attorney General John D.
Ashcroft referred to him as a terrorism supporter.

Dhafir was
convicted in 2005 and sentenced to 22 years in prison for violating the
Iraqi sanctions by sending money to Iraq through his charity, "Help the
Needy", and for fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, and a variety of
other nonviolent crimes. Five other people, including his wife, had
already pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the case.

In
the period leading up to his trial, political figures strove to paint
Dhafir with a broad terrorist brush. Then New York State governor
George E. Pataki described Dhafir's as a "money laundering case to help
terrorist organisations...conduct horrible acts."

The New York Times reported that prosecutors hinted at national security reasons for holding Dhafir without bail.

Federal
prosecutors heralded his arrest as another blow in the Justice
Department's war on terrorism. However, they never filed any charges
related to terrorism nor did they prove any link to terrorists.

In
a letter to a supporter, obtained by IPS, Dr. Dhafir wrote, "I am
really upset about the lies concerning the DOJ list. I have every
intention of going after them to correct this falsehood by any legal
means. I think that we should publicise this as much as possible and
ask people to protest these lies. I also ask your input regarding how
to remedy this travesty."

The CCR lawsuit is challenging
violations of fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to
due process, at the two CMUs. It was brought on behalf of five current
and former prisoners, and the spouses of two prisoners.

The
experimental prison units were created in 2006 and 2007, during the
administration of George W. Bush. They were designed to isolate certain
prisoners from the rest of the prison population and the outside world.

Between 65 and 72 percent of CMU prisoners are Muslim men, a
fact that attorneys say demonstrates that the CMUs were created to
allow for the segregation and restrictive treatment of Muslims based on
the discriminatory belief that such prisoners are more likely than
others to pose a threat to prison security.

Other prisoners
appear to be transferred to the CMU because of other protected First
Amendment activity, such as speaking out on social justice issues or
filing grievances in prison or court regarding conditions and abuse.

"In
addition to heavily restricted telephone and visitation access, CMU
prisoners are categorically denied any physical contact with family
members and are forbidden from hugging, touching or embracing their
children or spouses during visits. Attorneys say this blanket ban on
contact visitation, which is unique in the federal prison system, not
only causes suffering to the families of the incarcerated men, but is a
violation of fundamental constitutional rights," the CCR says.

According
to the Bureau of Prisons, the 76 inmates housed in the isolation units
are there to prevent them from furthering acts of terrorism.

But
civil liberties advocates say the extreme conditions in the CMUs amount
to abuse and that the programme violates the inmates' constitutional
rights. The BOP says CMUs were set up after authorities discovered that
some Islamic militants were able to send messages abroad from their
prison cells.

 

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