The Passionate Attachment

America's entanglement with Israel

Little Gitmo: America’s Muslim Quarantine

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New York Magazine has a feature on Yassin Aref, the imam from Albany, New York, who like a lot of other American Muslims since 9/11 found himself incarcerated in a special “terrorist-related” prison known as a Communication Management Unit:

During his three-week trial in 2006, he learned that he was the target of a controversial FBI sting, which involved a Pakistani informant with a history of crime. In the end, he was convicted of, among other things, conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He spent weeks in solitary confinement, days shackled in different vehicles, which shuffled him from prison to prison. Time coalesced, became unrecognizable, until, in the spring of 2007, Aref landed at a newly created prison unit in Terre Haute, Indiana, that would change his life again. It already had a nickname: Little Gitmo.

Aref didn’t know anything about Little Gitmo, or a Communication Management Unit (CMU), as it’s formally called. Once a death-row facility where Timothy McVeigh was executed, the Terre Haute CMU was quietly opened by the Bush administration in December 2006 to contain inmates with links, in particular, to ­“terrorist-related activity.” A year later, another unit opened in Marion, Illinois.

Although inmates and guards refer to CMUs as Little Gitmos, the comparison to Guantánamo is imprecise: The units are not detention centers, and the inmates inside have already been convicted of crimes in the U.S. legal system. But what differentiates CMUs from all other facilities in the U.S. are the prisoners. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) estimates that 66 to 72 percent of them are Muslims, a staggering number considering that Muslims represent only 6 percent of the entire federal-prison population.

As of June, there are 82 men in the two CMUs, according to federal-prison officials, including a man convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the American Taliban John Walker Lindh, and the lone survivor of an EgyptAir hijacking in 1985. All inmates are kept under 24-hour surveillance in near-complete isolation. “If the government has intelligence that links you to terrorist activity, then that’s something that the prison authority should be able to take into account,” says Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, in defense of the measures. “We give them an array of privileges that most other places in the world are shocked by.”

Legal activists agree that restrictive rules can be applied to high-security prisoners, but many in the CMUs, they say, are low-security inmates. One Muslim man was placed in a CMU for perjury, while another was locked up, in part, for violating U.S. sanctions by donating to a charity abroad without a license. According to CCR, many don’t fully know why they ended up in the segregated units or how they might appeal their placement. In the words of Kathy Manley, one of Aref’s defense attorneys, the CMUs are a “quarantine,” and Alexis Agathocleous, a lawyer at CCR, calls them “an experiment in social isolation.” “There is this story being told in this country now about the threat of homegrown terror and of radicalization related to Muslim prisoners, and the CMU is a story about law enforcement controlling that dangerous threat,” says Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer at CCR. “An allegation that someone is somehow connected to terrorism, without evidence and without an actual conviction [for terrorism], allows them to be treated in this whole different system of justice.”

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Written by Maidhc Ó Cathail

July 12, 2011 at 7:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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