Facility Holding Terrorism Inmates Limits Communication
Sunday, February 25, 2007
The Justice Department has quietly opened a new prison unit in Indiana that houses a hodgepodge of second-tier terrorism inmates, most of them Arab Muslims, whose ability to communicate with the outside world has been tightly restricted.
At the Communications Management Unit, or CMU, in Terre Haute, Ind., all telephone calls and mail are monitored, the number of phone calls limited and visits are restricted to a total of four hours per month, according to special rules enforced by the Justice Department's U.S. Bureau of Prisons. All inmate conversations must be conducted in English unless otherwise negotiated.
The unit appears to be a less restrictive version of the "supermax" facility in Florence, Colo., which holds some of the United States' most notorious terrorists, including al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui and Unabomber Theodore J. Kaczynski.
The Indiana unit, by contrast, is part of a medium-security facility and includes inmates set to be released in as little as two years. Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said the unit's population will not be limited to inmates convicted of terrorism-related cases, though all of the prisoners fit that definition.
Prison officials said they already seek to fully monitor the mail and other communications of all 213 "terrorist inmates" in the system. "By concentrating resources in this fashion, it will greatly enhance the agency's capabilities for language translation, content analysis and intelligence sharing," the bureau said in a summary of the CMU.
The unit, in Terre Haute's former death row, has received 17 inmates since it was launched in December and eventually will hold five times that number, officials said.
Defense lawyers and prisoner advocates complain that the unit's communication restrictions are unduly harsh for inmates not considered high security risks. They also say that the ethnic makeup of the CMU's population may indicate racial profiling. "If they really believed these people are serious terrorists, they wouldn't be in this unit," said David Fathi, staff counsel for the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. "They'd be in Colorado with [Atlanta Olympics bomber] Eric Rudolph and the Unabomber and the rest of the people that the Bureau of Prisons thinks are serious threats."
The prison bureau has come under sharp criticism in recent months for failing to adequately monitor terrorist inmates' communications. The Justice Department's inspector general reported in October that three terrorists imprisoned for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing had sent nearly 100 letters to alleged terrorists overseas from the maximum-security facility in Colorado.
"The inclusion of this unit is one of the many things we're doing to improve our monitoring capabilities," Billingsley said.
According to prison records, current residents at Terre Haute include five members of the so-called Lackawanna Six, a group of Yemeni natives from Upstate New York who attended an al-Qaeda training camp. The unit also houses Randall Royer, a defendant prosecuted as part of the "Virginia jihad" case in Alexandria, and Enaam M. Arnaout, an Islamic charity director who pleaded guilty to diverting money to Islamic military groups in Bosnia and Chechnya.
The only non-Muslim inmates are an unidentified Colombian militant and Zvonko Busic, 61, former leader of a Croatian extremist group that hijacked a jetliner and set off a bomb that killed a police officer in 1976, according to prison records and defense lawyers.
Another CMU resident is Rafil Dhafir, 58, an Iraqi-born physician from Syracuse, N.Y., who was sentenced to 22 years for defrauding charity donors and conspiring to violate U.S. economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein's government.