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Federal Supermax Terrorist's New Home and Bargaining Chip; $1 Million Cells Planned

Federal Supermax Terrorist's New Home and Bargaining Chip;
$1 Million Cells Planned

by Bob Williams

The United States PenitentiaryAdministrative Maximum Facility goes by many names: ADX, Supermax, Alcatraz of the Rockies. It has been the federal Bureau of Prison's (BOP) home to problem and high profile prisoners since opening in 1994. Its published capacity in August 2003 was 490. Today, it's home to some of the most notorious criminals and political prisoners in federal custody. Its conditions are so harsh that avoiding it has become a bargaining chip for prisoner cooperation and plea negotiations. And now BOP director Harley Lappin wants $23 million to build 24 new super-secure cells for convicted terrorists.

Terrorist's New Home

A review of federal records conducted by the Denver Post shows that political prisoners have been transferred to ADX from other prisons since the September 11 attacks. Bernard Kleinman, the New York attorney representing Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, told the Denver Post that ADX has become the prison of choice for terrorists ... they have shipped them all there.

The BOP strategy is not new but based on the European model for housing political prisoners. For example, in Spain, Basque separatists are imprisoned off the coast of Morocco on the Spanish-owned Canary Islands. [PLN has reported previously on the repression of political prisoners in Europe and elsewhere as well as the prisoners' struggles against these conditions.] Michael Page, a London political scientist who wrote a book on the subject in 1997, told the Denver Post that when you isolate them, it's much more difficult for them to try and escape." ADX is isolated in small-town Florence, Colorado. It's not necessarily a sympathetic population they can flee to immediately and hide within," said Page.
Political prisoners convicted of ideologically based crimes also make quite different prisoners. They tend to be well-behaved, respectful towards guards and rarely show hostilities. In fact, in early 2003 a group of ADX political prisoners went on a peaceful hunger strike and were force fed for weeks through tubes running through their noses. They eventually quit without disturbance. They rarely participate in the drug, sex and protection culture of prison. Page says this is consistent with guerrillas in European prisons. If you've got a political motivation, you tend to be quite a different prisoner," says Page. They tend to view themselves as superior to the criminal prisoner. They don't believe they are criminals.

In addition to political prisoners, Denver Post writer Jim Hughes says ADX is the national rogue's gallery of high-profile and hard-to manage criminals." The baker's dozen of ADX's notorious prisoners include the Unabomber, Theodore John Kaczynski, sentenced to life for a string of U.S. mail bombings. Robert Hanssen, the former FBI agent convicted of spying for Russia, sentenced to life. Terry Lynn Nichols, sentenced to life in the Oklahoma City bombing by the federal government and sentenced in June 2004 to life by Oklahoma authorities. His co-defendant, Timothy McVeigh, was housed at ADX until his execution. Arizona Ecstasy dealer and former Gambino crime family hit man and later informant, Sammy the Bull" Gravano. Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, once described by a federal judge as the apostle of evil," sentenced to life plus 240 years for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and plotting to bomb U.S. airlines in 1994. Abdul Hakim Murad, sentenced to life for helping Yousef in 1994. The would-be shoe bomber, Richard Colvin Reid, sentenced to life for attempting to bomb a U.S. airline. Omar Abdel-Rahman, sentenced to life for plotting to bomb several New York landmarks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing plus solicitation to murder Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Wadih el-Hage, a U.S. citizen accused of being an al-Qaeda top officer, sentenced to life for the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in East Africa. Oscar Lopez Rivera, a member of the Puerto Rican independence movement sentenced to 55 years for seditious conspiracy. El Sayyid Nosair, sentenced to life for allegedly planning the murder of New York Jewish Defense League founder Rabbi Meir Kahane. And Mutulu Shakur, Black Liberation Army member and step father of rap star Tupac Shakur, sentenced to 60 years for bank robbery, conspiracy and murder, including 1980s armored car robberies in the Northeast which killed guards and police.

Bargaining Chip

ADX cells are considered the most secure in the county, if not the world. One-third are for solitary confinement and measure 7 feet by 12 feet with half the floor space occupied by a concrete bed, 18-inch-high concrete stool, a concrete desk, a knobless stainless steel shower and combination stainless steel knobless sink and seatless toilet. Other cells are 10 feet by 12 feet. Cameras and microphones record a prisoner's every move within the cell. Prisoners live in virtual isolation and are rarely allowed out. BOP policy even requires strip searches in order to utilize the small recreation pens. Kleinman says some terrorists at ADX have stopped using the recreation pens because of the searches.

Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) allow even more oppression of prisoners whom the BOP monitors for actions or speech deemed sensitive to national security. SAMs allow guards to monitor and curtail prisoner speech, listen to prisoner's casual conversations, screen legal mail, and prohibit attorneys from repeating what clients have told them, for example. Special national security provisions allow monitoring of attorney visits, phone calls, and mail. The consensus among BOP staff, defense attorneys, and ADX prisoners past and present is that these are the most restrictive conditions they've ever seen.

Against this backdrop, ADX becomes a bargaining chip in plea negotiations and other cooperation. As with the Basque separatists who renounced their Basque ties in exchange for getting closer to home, ADX has provided an incentive for cooperation in exchange for being housed somewhere other than ADX. For example, Seattleite James Ujaama, ironically a Colorado native, was accused in 2002 of trying to develop an al-Qaeda camp in Oregon. He entered into a plea bargain with federal prosecutors in April 2003 which, among other things, avoided ADX by providing for service of his sentence in Washington state, according to his Seattle attorney, Robert Mahler. Sam Schmidt, el-Hage's attorney, told the Denver Post that this is an example of ADX's power as a bargaining chip.

Million Dollar Cells

In May 2003, BOP director Lappin testified before the House subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security. Sources confirmed to the Denver Post that his $23 million request was for 24 cells at ADX so ADX could play a key role as the government expands its mission to combat terrorism." Mark Shaw, managing editor of the trade journal Colorado Construction, confirmed for the Denver Post that there are plenty of people sniffing around," referring to construction companies hoping to bid, they're all showing interest.

Gary Rosenfeld, of the Pennsylvania prison design firm Professional Systems Engineering, told the Denver Post that the new terrorist cells will not require much, if any, special construction techniques but that existing monitoring technology will have to be upgraded and policies changed. This does not explain the nearly $1 million per cell price tag. Regardless of prisoner type, the design is basically the same," says Rosenfeld, the biggest problem is that it's an operations issue, dealing with terrorists. Their main function is to disrupt ... to pull the resources from fighting the war against them to taking care of them." Although smaller, Rosenfeld likens the political prisoner challenge to the one posed by prison gangs. He says they're not as organized as the gangs because they're so loose-knit." Gangs at ADX are problematic, however, as indicated by the 2002 indictment of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB) leaders who allegedly run the AB from inside ADX. [PLN, Apr. 2003, p. 16]

While BOP officials refused to disclose to the Denver Post what role ADX might play in the government's declared war on terrorism," intelligence operations at ADX have been the source of controversy. For example, a controversial and once-secret special unit known as H-unit was established inside ADX so AB members turned informants could divulge the AB's structure, plots, communications network, and their methods for manipulating staff. This was, however, only the tip of the H-unit's intelligence-gathering iceberg, which plunged into an ocean of gangs, smuggling, and terrorist activities. In fact, two intelligence officers at ADX received Department of Justice awards in July, 2003, recognizing their intelligence gathering, according to the Denver Post.

Lappin also told Congress that the BOP went $7 million over budget in 2002 because of expenses incurred participating in the government's war on terrorism. These expenses included participation in an FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force which oversees an initiative to increase cooperation between terrorism investigators and the nation's corrections system.

If the BOP has its way, ADX will appear to play a pivotal role in housing notorious criminals and political prisoners while draining millions from this nation's coffers for its efforts. This is reminiscent of the war on organized crime which sprung from the Great Depression era and filled the original Alcatraz. But its harsh conditions and high costs closed that hell-hole and organized crime lived on. g

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