The excerpts that follow come from a declaration by Mahmud Abouhalima, who was convicted of taking part in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center (a charge he still denies). Sentenced to 240 years, he initially spent most of his time in the general population at federal maximum security prisons, where he was permitted to hold a job, make phone calls, visit family, watch television, read what he chose, and pray with other Muslims.

On 9/11, Abouhalima was placed in solitary confinement, and eventually transferred to ADX Florence in rural Colorado, the federal government’s only supermax prison. In 2005, after exchanging letters with a Muslim prisoner in Spain, he was subjected to “Special Administrative Measures” (SAMs), which ban virtually all communications with the outside world, and placed in ADX’s H-Unit.

The declaration, which describes Abouhalima’s life in H-Unit, was compiled for Ayyad v. Holder, a civil action filed in Federal District Court in Colorado. It challenges his confinement on the grounds that it violates his right to due process. Among other things, it claims that the FBI is deeply involved in managing prisoners in the unit, even to the point of overriding Bureau of Prisons officials. The declaration has been heavily redacted by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office.  –James Ridgeway

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

Since September 11, 2001, through today, I have been in administrative detention and faced brutal and systematic mental, spiritual, and psychological cruelty. I never believed that such an unusual punishment would be extended up until today, where I have lived in a prison cell for the last ten years that is the size of a closet. I am fed like a zoo animal through a slot in the door, and manacled and chained at the hands, waist, and legs when I leave the cell. A black box with heavy lock is placed on top of my wrist chains in addition to this when I am escorted out of the unit, like to the hospital or to a visit…

Sitting in a small box in a walking distance of eight feet, this little hole becomes my world, my dining room, reading and writing area, sleeping, walking, urinating, and defecating. I am virtually living in a bathroom, and this concept has never left my mind in ten years. The toilet only works if you flush it once every five minutes, so if I press the flush button twice by mistake, I have to wait for up to an hour, with the smell of urine and defecation still there, everywhere I go, sit, stand, or sleep.

For my first four years in segregation, I kept fighting paranoia. I became suspicious of everything around me. If I heard the range door open, I stood up, feeling that they were coming to take me away, even though I didn’t expect to go anywhere. The one hour a day of rec outside the cell didn’t heal a damn thing. I struggled with myself, telling myself that maybe next month, next year it will be better and I would be out of solitary confinement. Eventually I lost all hope of getting out of segregation.

I lost appetite and just wanted to sleep. This was the first time in my life that I experienced the brutality of force feeding. I also heard and saw other inmates being taken by guards and medical staff in combat gear and with cameras. Sometimes an inmate screamed so loud that I could hear him…

I subscribed to a few magazines, like crochet and sports magazines, the Nation, and the Atlantic Monthly. When the first issue of the sports magazine arrived at the prison, SIS staff forwarded a copy of the magazine to the FBI office and refused to release it to me without FBI approval. The same thing happened to all of the magazines. The crochet and sports magazines were returned to me after a few weeks’ delay, with a few pages removed. However, other magazines with political articles were reduced literally to only a few pages.

For example, the first several issues of the Nation magazine were reduced from around fifty pages to only fifteen to twenty pages. I was told that the FBI removed all articles related to politics, as they don’t want us to read anything about politics. The same thing happened with the Atlantic Monthly, Time, Newsweek, and other magazines. A simple book like the world almanac was rejected twice because, according to the FBI, certain information in it could be used for terrorism. I filed administrative remedies and they were all denied, because the BOP could not override an FBI decision…

Over the last six years, three of my uncles, my grandfather, my aunt, and my uncle’s daughter have all passed away. I submitted request after request just to send condolence letters to my family mourning these deaths. I also requested to speak with my aunt before she died of cancer. They denied all of these requests…

An incoming letter in Arabic from my mother and brother was rejected because my brother wrote that an old friend said hello to me. The letter was sent back to Egypt after sitting in the FBI office for two months…

It is clear to me now that the FBI, not the BOP, is the agency that objects at each program review to my advancement into a tiny little program that would allow me to be on the same range, inside the same unit, with one or two inmates for only one hour…

In or around March 2011, a member of the ADX executive staff told me that, from the BOP perspective, they have no problem approving me to Phase 3 [a lower security level], and that everything they are told by the FBI about my letters to my children are absolutely irrelevant to prison management, but because they are not in control of the SAMs, the ADX or the BOP cannot do a thing…

I asked the FBI agent about the requests to contact family relatives that I had submitted over the past five or six years. She said to submit four names to her, as the FBI office had now decided that it would only approve four such requests. I asked her how long it would take for the FBI to approve the requests, and she said two months. I submitted all of the required information on the form they provided me, and resubmitted this information with additional information on March 5, 2011.

I tried to question the FBI agent on her misinterpretation in her report, but they wouldn’t let me. I asked her about another FBI report I had read, commenting on one of my letters in English to my son encouraging him to respect, to love, to cherish the parents’ bond with their children, as a call to an illegal and criminal act. She said that she didn’t remember that. I pulled the report out of a small envelope I had, but again Mr. Brieschke stopped me and said not to give her anything, because this was not the time or place to discuss such things. I was confused, and said they had told me I could ask questions…

I pray that the court will order a meaningful process for these SAMs renewals and a program to follow to get the SAMs restrictions removed from me and ultimately liberate me from the indefinite solitary confinement of the ADX and into an open and less restrictive prison.

Leave a Reply