ACLU challenges federal prison solitary confinement units

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed suit [complaint, PDF] Thursday against the US government, challenging the establishment of isolated cells within federal prisons that were allegedly created in violation of federal law. Filed against US Attorney General Eric Holder [official profile] and two Bureau of Prisons (BOP) [official website] officials, the complaint alleges that the so-called Communication Management Units (CMU) were secretly created in violation of a Administrative Procedure Act provision [5 USC § 553 text], which requires notice of new rules and the chance for interested parties to comment on them. The units were apparently created to detain terrorists but, according to the ACLU, now contain a disproportionate number of Muslim prisoners [press release] who are not all connected to terrorism. The ACLU brought the suit along with the organization's Indiana office [advocacy website] on behalf of plaintiff Sabri Benkahla, who is confined in an isolated unit at an Indiana federal prison. Benkahla was found not guilty [opinion, PDF] of supporting the Taliban and was declared not a terrorist by the sentencing judge. ACLU National Prison Project [advocacy website] attorney David Shapiro addressed the fairness of the units:

The government created CMUs without any opportunity for public comment or oversight in an effort to skirt obligations of accountability and transparency. And after inventing these units behind closed doors, prison officials arbitrarily assigned prisoners to them without providing prisoners any real ability to challenge their placement there.

It is simply unfair to force Sabri Benkahla to serve his sentence in a horrifically isolated housing unit designed by the government to hold terrorists when he has never been convicted of any crime of terrorism. The Bureau of Prisons should be held accountable for these units and the people like Sabri who are wrongfully held there.
The ACLU ask the court to order the defendants to implement the statutory notice and comment requirements immediately, to enjoin the further operation of the solitary units at the Indiana facility, and to establish visiting hours for prisoners detained in the units.

Benkahla was abducted by Saudi authorities in 2003 the night before his wedding and held in a small cell without notice to his family. The FBI took custody of him and brought him to the US, charging him with supporting the Taliban and a firearms violation. Benkahla was then convicted of perjury in connection with his testimony before a grand jury and sentenced to 121 months in prison. Last week, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] released a fact sheet [press release] summarizing the detainment and prosecution of terrorism suspects in the US criminal justice system. The release specified that the BOP currently detains 216 inmates [JURIST report] with connections to international terrorism.


 

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