- Writing on May 12 in Alternet.org, Mariam Abu Ali headlined,
"My Brother Faces a Lifetime of Solitary Confinement on a Spurious
Terror Conviction," saying:
- He "spent the past five years in solitary confinement,
under 23-hour lockdown, in a 7 x 12 cell," and overall has been treated
horrifically "in a dungeon, over 20 meters beneath the ground."
- An April article by this writer explained what they're
like - http://sjlendman.blogspot.com/2010/04/harmful-effects-of-prolonged-isolated.html.
Material from it is repeated below.
- Abu Ali wasn't charged or convicted for violence. He's
not at Guantanamo or secret detainment abroad. He's in Florence, CO Supermax
hell, like state-run facilities the only federal one evolving from a "get
tough on crime" philosophy to keep hardened offenders separate from
others, the greater prison population safer, and the public secure knowing
these prisons are escape-proof. Over the last two decades, nearly 60 were
built in over 40 states, currently for over 20,000 inmates.
- The US Department of Justice (DOJ) National Institute
of Corrections calls the term "supermax" the most common one
to describe "special housing unit(s), maxi-maxi, maximum control facilit(ies),
secured housing unit(s), intensive management unit(s), and administrative
maximum penitentiar(ies.)." It describes them as:
- "a highly restrictive, high-custody housing unit
within a secure facility....that isolates inmates from the general prison
population and from each other due to grievous crimes, repetitive assaultive
or violent institutional behavior, the threat of escape or actual escape
from high-custody facility(s), or inciting or threatening to incite disturbances
in a correctional institution."
- Their cost to build and operate is two to three times
more than for a conventional prison. They have high-tech security features.
Walls, floors, ceilings and doors are built out of reinforced materials.
Complex electronic systems minimize officer-inmate contact. Moving inmates
requires multiple officers. They're confined in windowless single cells
about 7 by 12 feet for up to 23 hours a day, with a shower and concrete
bed. The staff-to-prisoner ratio is much higher than in conventional prisons.
Inmates have few if any programs. Very little constructive activity is
offered on a daily basis. Few visits are allowed, though almost none directly.
- Overall, there's very little human contact. Most inmates
are incarcerated for life but other sentences are determinate. No federal
entry or release standard is observed. Some states use Supermax facilities
for different reasons, including when a shortage of segregation beds exist
- Those in them describe the experience with horror because
long-term isolation contributes to anti-social behavior and mental illness,
so released inmates may be violent and unemployable. Yet proponents say
they're the most effective way to deal with dangerous offenders. Opponents
believe they do more harm than good, and the expense compounds the problem.
- They're for society's most incorrigible (or ones authorities
want to punish for political or other reasons) on the notion that solitary
confinement, sensory deprivation, and punitive treatment will change behavior,
only for the worst according to experts.
- The facilities are extremely harsh. They crush the human
spirit, mind and body through isolation and cruelty enough to turn ordinary
inmates into sociopaths. Physical abuse and extreme deprivation are common,
inflicted as punishment. Inmate contact with staff is restricted and none
allowed with other prisoners. They're confined in windowless cells 23 hours
a day, have no work, social contact, education, recreation, rehabilitation
or personal privacy. Nearly everything is delivered - food, medical supplies
and other materials. Outside their cells, they're escorted by 4-man teams,
painfully handcuffed and shacked. Inside, they're treated like caged animals.
- Department of Justice (DOJ) Charges
- On February 22, 2005, a DOJ press release announced a
six-count indictment, charging Abu Ali with:
- -- conspiracy to provide material support and resources
to Al Qaeda;
- -- providing material support and resources to Al Qaeda;
- -- conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists;
- -- providing material support to terrorists;
- -- contribution of services to Al Qaeda; and
- -- receipt of funds and services from Al Qaeda.
- It claimed he "advised (an unnamed) co-conspirator
whom he had met on previous travels to Medina, Saudi Arabia, of his interest
in joining Al Qaeda," and that he "intended to become a planner
of terrorist operations like Muhammad Atta and Khalid Sheik Muhammad."
It also alleges that he and another co-conspirator discussed plans to assassinate
George Bush, either close range by gun shot or car bomb.
- On November 22, 2005, he was convicted on all charges,
the jury rejecting his testimony that his Saudi captors tortured him into
confessing. Two doctors who examined him agreed, but their testimony was
suppressed - a clear Sixth Amendment violation that assures:
- "the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial
jury....to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory
process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance
of (competent) Counsel (and enough time) for (a proper) defense."
- Although the Sixth Amendment doesn't specifically prohibit
attorney-client communications, doing so clearly violates its spirit and
provision for a proper defense. More on that below.
- Worse still, government witnesses were allowed, including
from Saudi guards (translated by live satellite feed using pseudonyms for
"security reasons") who tortured him yet they denied using it
on anyone, contradicting clear evidence the State Department acknowledges,
but the defense wasn't allowed to introduce it - a Fifth Amendment violation
that no one shall "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without
due process of law," meaning a fair trial according to established
legal standards, what prosecutors flagrantly prohibited.
- Further, Saudis admitted that US prosecutors "ordered"
certain questions be asked, and FBI agents participated - clear evidence
that Washington engineered the entire process, including his interrogation
and torture that took place from 8PM - 6AM on successive days, during which
he was shackled, chained, ordered to confess in writing, then read it aloud
- Before trial, prosecutors called him "one of the
most dangerous terrorist threats that America faces" since 9/11. His
lawyer, John K. Zwerling, said he was in Saudi Arabia for religious studies,
now bogusly convicted of terrorism and a plot to kill George Bush.
- On March 29, 2006, a DOJ press release announced his
conviction on nine charges, three above the original six, including:
- -- a conspiracy to kill George Bush;
- -- conspiracy to commit air piracy; and
- -- conspiracy to destroy an aircraft.
- He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, followed by 30
more on supervised release. His co-conspirators weren't named, yet prosecutors
claimed "he received training from members of (an Al Qaeda cell) in
weapons, explosives, and document forgery." Deputy Attorney General
Paul McNulty called his conviction "a milestone achievement in the
international effort to bring terrorists to justice." With Abu Ali
behind bars, he's "no longer a threat to the American people."
- He never was, nor are dozens of other Muslims bogusly
charged, tried, convicted, and imprisoned for their faith and ethnicity
at the wrong time in America. When a nation imprisons the innocent, we're
all equally vulnerable, and this country does it repeatedly and shamelessly.
- His trial was a travesty of injustice, based solely on
torture-extracted evidence, Judge Gerald Lee suppressing a chance to prove
it nor acknowledging his denial of constitutional protections, including
against self-incrimination or right to an attorney during questioning,
let alone not to be tortured.
- On appeal, the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld
the conviction, but overturned the sentence on grounds that the District
court deviated from federal sentencing guidelines. Judge Lee then resentenced
Abu Ali to life in prison after which he was incarcerated at Florence,
- Commenting on the case, Amnesty International (AI) said
- "seriously concerned that (his) trial may set a
precedent in US courts of according unqualified support to the declarations
of a foreign government regarding its human rights record as a means of
rendering evidence admissible, including statements obtained by torture
and ill-treatment. In this case, the statements of officials from Saudi
Arabia, a state with a clear record of widespread torture and ill-treatment,
flatly denying that such practices existed appear to have been taken at
face value with no serious attempts allowed to challenge the claims when
- Court proceedings were orchestrated to convict. Abu Ali
never had a chance. From the time he was arrested, held by the Saudis and
returned to America, he was guilty as charged to be locked in prison hell
for as long as authorities wish, and be treated like a caged animal under
restrictions imposed under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs).
- Effective May 17, 1996, "the Attorney General may
authorize the Director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to implement 'special
administrative measures' (when) there is a substantial risk that a prisoner's
communications or contact with persons could result in death or serious
bodily injury to persons."
- Using vague language, it scraps traditional attorney-client
privileges to monitor and/or restrict communications between them - not
to protect state secrets or prevent harm, but to harass and obstruct justice.
- Effective October 2001, they may be imposed from 120
days to a year, and if the Attorney General believes that "reasonable
suspicion exists (that) an inmate may use communications with attorneys
or their agents to further or facilitate acts of violence or terrorism,
this rule amends the existing regulations to provide (BOP authorities the
right to) monitor mail or communications with attorneys in order to deter
- In other words, on the pretext of deterring "terrorism,"
a centuries-long core US legal principle was scrapped, to include attorney-client
privilege, other communications with family, friends, other inmates, and
the media, regular correspondence and telephone use - compounded by imposed
isolation in special residential units or solitary confinement.
- From arrest to incarceration, Abu Ali's case represents
a travesty of justice from an nation affording none to its most vulnerable,
especially Blacks, Latinos, and Muslims determined guilty for their faith
at the wrong time in America.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com
and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the
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