For Immediate Release
Experimental Prison Units Challenged, Albany “Sting” Defendant Lead Plaintiff In Lawsuit
ALBANY, NY - The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York City filed a
federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging violations of fundamental
constitutional rights at two experimental federal prison units called
Communication Management Units (CMUs). The segregated units are used to
hold Muslim prisoners and inmates with unpopular political beliefs.
Yassin Aref, one of the defendants in Albany's controversial "sting"
trial in 2006, is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.
filed Aref, et al. v. Holder, et al. in the District of Columbia's District Court on behalf of five
current and former prisoners at the units in Terre Haute, Indiana and
Marion, Illinois; two other plaintiffs are the spouses of prisoners.
Aref was sent to the CMU in Terre Haute in May 2007; in March 2009, he
was transferred to the CMU in Marion, where he is presently
Both CMUs were secretly
opened during the Bush administration in 2006 and 2007 and are designed
to monitor and control the communications of prisoners and to isolate
them from other prisoners and the outside world. The units heavily
restrict communication and visitation and completely forbid physical
contact with visiting family members--a blanket ban that is unique in
the federal prison system. Attorneys say this not only causes suffering
to the families and children of the incarcerated men, but is a violation
of fundamental rights. Lawyers also assert a pattern of religious and
political discrimination, as well as retaliation for prisoners' lawful
advocacy. Over two-thirds of the CMU population is Muslim, though
Muslims represent only 6% of the general federal prison population. Attorneys say this demonstrates that the CMUs were
created to allow restrictive treatment of Muslims.
units are an experiment in social isolation," said CCR attorney Alexis
Agathocleous. "Dispensing with due process creates a situation ripe for
abuse; in this case, it has allowed for a pattern of religious
profiling, retaliation, and arbitrary punishment. This is precisely what
the rule of law and the Constitution forbid."
Manley, an attorney at Kindlon Shanks and Associates and Aref's appeal
attorney, said, "For Yassin, the worst part is that even on the
rare occasions when his family could make the 4-day round trip drive to
see him, he couldn't even hug his wife or children, who had to squeeze
into a small booth, look at him through Plexiglas, and share a single
telephone." The complaint states (p. 36): "Rather than subject himself
and his young children to such restrictive and taxing visiting
conditions, Mr. Aref has foregone receiving visits from his family...[and]
has not received a visit from his family for almost two years."
five prisoner-plaintiffs in Aref were placed at the two CMUs despite having clean or nearly
clean disciplinary histories, and none of the plaintiffs has received
any communications-related disciplinary infractions in the last decade.
Several of the plaintiffs (including Aref) expect to serve the entire
duration of their sentences at their CMU.
More information on Aref, et al. v. Holder, et al. is available at http://www.ccrjustice.org/
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.