CCR sues ‘Guantanamo North’ detention facilities in Aref et al v. Holder

NPR has a story about the “Communications Management Units” in Terre Haute, Ind., and Marion, Ill. The special detention unit in Terre Haute contains 50 cells housing some of the people the U.S. describes as the “country’s biggest security threats”, including John Walker Lindh. The units’ population has included men convicted in well-known post-Sept. 11 cases, as well as defendants from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1999 “millennium” plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport, and hijacking cases in 1976, 1985 and 1996. The Bureau of Prisons says a total of 71 men now live in the units.

Guards and cameras watch the CMU inmates’ every move. Every word they speak is picked up by a counterterrorism team that eavesdrops from West Virginia. Restrictions on visiting time and phone calls in the special units are tougher than in most maximum security prisons. Prisoners in the CMU, alone out of all general population prisoners within the federal system, are categorically banned from any physical contact with visiting friends and family, including babies, infants, and minor children. To further their social isolation, the BOP has placed severe restrictions on their access to phone calls and work and educational opportunities.

According to CCR:

“Adding to the suspect nature of these units, upwards of two-thirds of the prisoners confined there are Muslim – a figure that over-represents the proportion of Muslim prisoners in BOP facilities by at least 1000 percent. Many of the remaining prisoners have unpopular political views, including environmental activists designated as “ecoterrorists.”

When the Terre Haute unit opened in December 2006, 15 of the first 17 inmates were Muslim. AAlexis Agathocleous, a lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights:

“We were concerned about what appears to be racial profiling and also a pattern of designations to the CMUs of people who have spoken out at other prison units and advocated for their rights and have taken leadership positions in religious communities in those other prisons,” he says. They are segregated from other prisoners because officials worry that they could recruit other inmates for terrorism or direct people in the outside world to commit crimes.

Civil rights groups have filed lawsuits however that accuse the two U.S. facilities of some of the same due process complaints raised by people at Gitmo.Prison officials opened the first CMU with no public notice four years ago, something inmates say they had no right to do under the federal law known as the Administrative Procedures Act. Unlike prisoners who are convicted of serious crimes and sent to a federal supermax facility, CMU inmates have no way to review the evidence that sent them there or to challenge that evidence to get out. Also, as word got out that the special units were disproportionately Muslim,
civil rights lawyers say, the Bureau of Prisons started moving in
non-Muslims. According to CCR:

“Five CMU prisoners and two of their spouses (who, along with their children, have been subjected to draconian rules governing visitation and phone calls) have joined the lawsuit as plaintiffs. All five men confined in the CMU have been classified as low or medium security, but were designated to the CMU despite their relatively, and in two cases perfectly, clean disciplinary history. Not a single one has received discipline for any communications-related infraction within the last decade, nor any significant disciplinary offense.

Like all CMU prisoners, the men received no procedural protections related to their designation, and were not allowed to examine or refute the allegations that led to their transfer. They are also being held indefinitely at the CMU without any meaningful review process. They expect to serve their entire sentences in these isolated and punitive units.

Predictably, the lack of procedural protections has allowed for an unchecked pattern of discriminatory and retaliatory designations to the CMU. Rather than being related to a legitimate penological purpose or based on substantiated information, our clients’ designations were instead based on their religious and/or perceived political beliefs, or in retaliation for other protected First Amendment activity.

American University law professor Stephen Vladeck reviewed NPR’s findings. He says he has some questions about the secrecy surrounding the units and whether the prison is sending the right people there.

“I think the real question is, what are the constraints and how are we sure that the right people are being placed in these units and not the wrong ones?” Vladeck says.

“Mixing prisoners from different backgrounds who actually don’t necessarily live up to those criteria I think is troubling,” Vladeck adds, because it means some inmates might not belong there, and others who do belong may not be getting the attention they deserve.

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