19 Jun

ACLU Sues Over “Secretly Created” Federal Prison

Keeps mostly Muslim prisoners in stark isolation.

AP, June 18, 2009


TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — The American Civil Liberties Union sued the government Thursday over the creation of a special unit at the federal prison in Terre Haute, claiming it was created in secrecy and keeps mostly Muslim prisoners in stark isolation.

The ACLU says about 40 other prisoners, mostly Muslims, are being held in a “secretly created” Communication Management Unit in which they have no contact with other prisoners, limited contact with the outside world and no physical contact with family members.

“Designed to house prisoners viewed by the government as terrorists, they were established in violation of federal laws requiring public scrutiny and today are disproportionately inhabited by Muslim prisoners _ many of whom have never been convicted of terrorism-related crimes,” the ACLU said in a news release.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd defended the legality of the unit and said it did not target Muslims. He said the department was reviewing the lawsuit.

Dean said the Bureau of Prisons followed federal rules in creating the special unit to closely monitor prisoners’ outside contacts. He said “race, country of origin or religious beliefs” are not factors in who is placed in the unit. (If you believe this I have a bridge for you to buy.)

In addition to those convicted of terror-related crimes, the unit also is designed to hold certain disciplinary cases and sex offenders who try to contact their victims.

The ACLU said unit prisoners cannot have any physical contact with visitors, who can visit only on weekdays and talk by telephone while separated by partitions. Most other federal prisoners can kiss and shake hands with their visitors.

Communication Management Unit prisoners also can have only one 15-minute telephone call per week, except on legal matters, and cannot participate in prison programs with non-unit inmates, the ACLU said.

The complaint alleged the Bureau of Prisons, in creating the Terre Haute unit in 2006, took steps to avoid public scrutiny that violated federal notice and comment requirements.

The ACLU highlighted the treatment of Sabri Benkahla, a 34-year-old Virginia man serving a 10-year sentence for his 2007 convictions for obstruction of justice and lying about training with militants in Pakistan.

He was acquitted in 2004 of charges of aiding the Taliban with a U.S. group that prosecutors said trained for jihad with paintball guns.

Benkahla cannot even hug his 6-year-old son, according to the lawsuit, filed three days before Father’s Day in the Terre Haute federal court.

“He’s in incredibly restrictive conditions in which anyone would miss his family and opportunities to have contact with the outside world,” said David Shapiro of the ACLU’s National Prison Project.

It never ends, does it?

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