COMMENTARY:

Ahmed Abu Ali: Guilty of Being Muslim in America at the Wrong Time

by Stephen Lendman
Thursday, 20 May 2010
On the pretext of deterring "terrorism," a centuries-long core US legal principle was scrapped, to include attorney-client privilege, communications with family, friends, and the media - compounded by imposed isolation in solitary confinement.

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. 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 elsewhere.

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:

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 during videotaping.

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:

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, CO Supermax.

Commenting on the case, Amnesty International (AI) said it was:

"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 presented."

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 such acts...."

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

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. His blog is sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on May 20, 2010.