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Prof. Al-Arian prison conditions

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  • ummyakoub
    Amnesty group blasts Al-Arian prison conditions BY PAUL LOMARTIRE Palm Beach Post - August 4, 2003 http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/state/6451790.htm
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 5, 2003
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      Amnesty group blasts Al-Arian prison conditions

      BY PAUL LOMARTIRE
      Palm Beach Post - August 4, 2003

      http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/state/6451790.htm

      TAMPA - In a high-security federal prison north of Tampa, Sami Al-
      Arian spends 23 hours of every day locked in a 7-by-13-foot cell. No
      watch. No clock. No window through which to see daylight.

      One hour a day, five days a week, he and his cellmate get to walk
      around in a steel cage. That is his only recreation.

      He cannot leave his cell without being shackled and chained. When his
      family visits, he cannot touch them. They sit on opposite sides of a
      plastic window and talk over a phone. When his lawyer visits, the
      shackled Al-Arian walks bent-over, his hands chained behind him, and
      balances his legal documents on his back. The guards won't carry them.

      After four months in such conditions, including a hunger strike and a
      month in solitary confinement, he has lost 45 pounds.

      He has never been convicted of a crime. But he is charged with a very
      big one. The former University of South Florida economics professor
      is accused of being the American boss for Islamic Jihad, a
      Palestinian terrorist group believed responsible for numerous suicide
      bombings and the deaths of more than 100 people in Israel and the
      adjacent occupied territories.

      In the post-Sept. 11 climate, that charge isn't likely to win him
      much sympathy in security-conscious America. But now Al-Arian has
      found a champion -- at least for improving his prison living
      conditions.

      In a July 17 letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Amnesty
      International, the respected international human rights monitor,
      denounced Al-Arian's detention as ``gratuitously punitive.''

      In a three-page letter to Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, the bureau director,
      Amnesty International cited the 23-hour lockdown, strip searches, use
      of chains and shackles, severely limited recreation, lack of access
      to any religious service and denial of a watch or clock in a
      windowless cell where the artificial light is never turned off. Al-
      Arian shares the small cell with co-defendant Sameeh Hammoudeh.
      Concludes Amnesty: ``The prolonged cellular confinement, lack of
      exercise, frequent shackling and other deprivations imposed on Dr. Al-
      Arian are inconsistent with international standards and treaties
      which require that all persons deprived of their liberty must be
      treated humanely with respect for their inherent human dignity.''

      Amnesty International is better known for drawing attention to
      torture, rat-hole prison conditions and human rights abuses in Third
      World countries. But in this case, ''We're particularly concerned
      because he's a pretrial detainee,'' says Angela Wright, an Amnesty
      researcher in London.

      ''Certainly if he remains in those conditions, we will continue to
      raise concerns,'' Wright says.

      MISTREATMENT DENIED

      The Bureau of Prisons denies any mistreatment. ''We treat all inmates
      in a fair and consistent manner,'' says Traci Billingsley, public
      information officer for the bureau in Washington. For specifics, she
      suggested, ``you'd have to go to the Justice Department.''

      A Justice Department official who has read the Amnesty letter agreed
      to comment only if allowed to remain unnamed: ``Like all people
      detained by the U.S. Marshal's Service or the Bureau of Prisons, Mr.
      Al-Arian is provided with all the protections and services required
      by law and regulation.''

      Complaints from defense lawyers and Tampa-area residents and friends
      of Al-Arian led U.S. Magistrate Thomas B. McCoun III to travel the 70
      miles north from Tampa to inspect the U.S. Prison at Coleman.

      He denied almost all defense motions challenging Al-Arian's treatment
      but did order guards to cut back on strip searches. He found ''no
      real justification'' for such searches before and after all ''non-
      contact'' visits.

      The magistrate found Al-Arian's little cell far from intolerable:
      ``While in their cells, defendants are permitted radios as well as
      reading material, including discovery material. The cells include
      bunk beds, a sink, toilet, shower, and small metal desk.''

      Amnesty International contends that placing two men 23 hours a day in
      a 70-square-foot cell does not meet American Correctional Association
      guidelines of ''at least 80 square feet of total floor space per
      occupant'' when confinement exceeds 10 hours a day.

      But McCoun's May ruling concluded that the cell, ``while not
      spacious, is more than adequate to meet constitutional minimums.''

      The judge was impressed with the prison's cleanliness but not the
      recreation available to Al-Arian and Hammoudeh. He noted that they
      are allowed to exercise ``in a cage adjacent to the cellblock five
      times a week. . . the exercise cages are enclosed by a high wall and
      covered by an opaque weather deflector. While there is open air space
      above the walls, for all practical purposes the defendants remain
      indoors. No equipment is provided and the circumstances of their
      recreation inside these fairly small cages when compared to that
      available to convicted inmates on the nearby open-air recreation
      yards stands in stark contrast.''

      TRIAL IN 2005

      Even so, the judge declined to order a change in the recreation
      regimen. Unless Al-Arian finds a friendlier judge, his best hope of
      better living conditions may be when he comes to trial. But that's a
      long wait. His trial is scheduled sometime in 2005. Al-Arian has
      tried to portray himself as an innocent victim of anti-Arab, anti-
      Muslim hysteria in the wake of Sept. 11. After a July 25 hearing, he
      was allowed to dismiss his court-appointed lawyers and represent
      himself. But his family and the National Liberty Foundation, a Muslim
      civil rights group in Virginia, are trying to raise enough money to
      hire a Washington attorney. Until then, Tampa's Linda Moreno, who is
      appealing his denial of bail, is the only attorney visiting him at
      Coleman.

      When they meet, he arrives shackled and chained, bent over with his
      papers loaded on his back ''like a mule,'' she says. ``It's
      completely disgraceful.''

      He is unshackled and allowed to sit at a table across from Moreno,
      who cannot bring a briefcase, laptop or tape recorder to the meeting.
      She is restricted to a legal pad, pen and documents that can't exceed
      a half-inch in height, she says. ``That makes it quite difficult to
      confer with Dr. Al-Arian since the indictment itself is 2.5 inches.''

      Moreno, who worked for several years as a criminal public defender,
      often representing murderers and thugs, says, ``In 23 years of
      practicing, I've never seen anything like it.''

      ''We're not asking much, just human rights,'' says Al-Arian's wife,
      Nahla. On Tuesday, she and her eldest son, Abdullah, 23, and
      daughter, Laila, 21, gathered at an Ybor City coffee shop with Moreno.

      The family is allowed to visit the prison for two to three hours, on
      Monday, Friday and every other weekend. Nahla is not allowed to carry
      anything into the prison other than her car keys and change for the
      vending machines. The usual wait for clearance to go in and meet her
      husband is two hours. During a recent visit, she says, she was taking
      notes for a to-do list from her husband when guards ``swooped down on
      me. They were watching on a camera.''

      The guards took her pen and pad and says she isn't allowed to write
      during visits. Ignore the rule, she was warned, and her husband would
      lose family visits for a year.



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