What Constitution?

Documents show new secretive US prison program isolating Muslim, Middle Eastern prisoners
Jennifer Van Bergen
Published: Friday February 16, 2007

The US Department of Justice has implemented a secretive new prison program segregating “high-security-risk” Muslim and Middle Eastern prisoners and tightly restricting their communications with the outside world in apparent violation of federal law, according to documents obtained by RAW STORY.

Quietly implemented in December, the special “Communications Management Unit” (CMU) at a federal penitentiary in Indiana targeting Muslim and Middle-Eastern inmates was not implemented through the process required by federal law, which stipulates the public be notified of any new changes to prison programs and be given the opportunity to voice objections. Instead, the program appears to have been ordered and implemented by a senior official at the Department of Justice.

In April of last year, the US Federal Bureau of Prisons — part of the Department of Justice — proposed a set of strict new regulations and, as required, there was a period of public comment. Human rights and civil liberties groups voiced strong concerns about the constitutionality of the proposed program.

The program originally proposed was said to be applicable only to terrorists and terrorist-related criminals. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), however, along with a coalition of other civil liberties groups, objected to the language of the regulation as too broad, and potentially applicable to non-terrorists and even to those not convicted of a crime but merely being held as “witnesses, detainees, or otherwise.”

After pushback from civil rights groups, the program appeared to have been dropped by the Prisons Bureau, with coalition groups believing that they had made their case regarding Constitutional rights. Yet documents obtained by RAW STORY show that a similar program, the CMU, was surreptitiously implemented in December 2006.

Executive Director Howard Kieffer of Federal Defense Associates, a legal group based in California that assists inmates and lawyers of inmates on post-conviction defense matters, says the order for the program must have been issued by one of the offices which oversee the US Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Only three government offices have the authority to issue such changes in federal prison operations, and they all fall within the senior management of the Justice Department: the office of Harley Lappin, the Director of Prisons Bureau, the Office of Legal Counsel, or directly from the office of the US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales.

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