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Texas Monitors Prisoners for-Signs of Al-Qaeda Recruitment

by Matthew T. Clarke

Fears of possible al-Qaeda recruitment among prisoners in U.S. prisons have led officials to take a fresh look at prisoners with a view to their possible recruitment by al-Qaeda. Texas has taken the process to an extreme, closely monitoring the state's ll4 prisons for signs of prisoner membership.

The increased scrutiny in Texas started when, in late 2001, a Muslim group showed a video tape of California Imam Al-Hajj Muhammad Abdullah preaching a "Message to the Oppressed." The message blamed Zionism, fascism, imperialism, and the military-industrial complex for the 9-11 attacks, exonerating al-Qaeda and characterizing the U.S. response to the attacks as a war against Islam and Muslims. The warden of the Beto Unit, where the tape was shown, felt the political content was inappropriate for a religious prison program and brought it to the attention of other prison officials.

Texas has only 150 prisoners of Middle Eastern descent among its 150,000 prisoners. However it has 7,600 prisoners registered as Muslim, one of the largest Muslim prisoner populations in the U.S.

Texas officials claim that their program of closely examining prisoners' mail (especially when written in Arabic, Farsi, or other Middle Eastern languages) and religious groups allowed into the prisons has had "some successes," but refuse to give details. One success involved a former Iraqi soldier, another involved a Texas group that federal officials believe may have ties to terrorist organizations, a third involved an outside radical group, and a fourth involved a prisoner who falsely claimed to be a member of al-Qaeda.

Other states have expressed nervousness about possible recruitment by al-Qaeda in state prisons. However, their fears appear to be overblown as most of the time, terrorist alerts about prisoners are false leads. One instance is the Texas prisoner who falsely claimed to be a member of al-Qaeda. Likewise, Michigan officials discovered state prisoners sending dried toothpaste to federal officials in hoax anthrax letters. Their motivation: hopes of being prosecuted for a federal offense and being transferred to a federal prison (which have better living conditions).

In September, 2003, prison officials met at a conference sponsored by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees in Columbus, Ohio. There, FBI supervisory special agent Andrew Black hosted a program on the threat of al-Qaeda recruitment in American prisons. However, Black admitted that there has not been a single documented case of any U.S. prisoner having joined al-Qaeda while in prison.

Phil Vermillion, security threat group investigator for Ohio's prison system, noted that there were 1,200 Ohio prisoners who are known members of gangs or terrorist groups in Ohio state prisons. These include Hezbollah and the Irish Republican Army according to Vermillion. However, Vermillion admitted that there has not been a single known recruitment for al-Qaeda in an Ohio prison. Nor has anyone been charged or prosecuted for these alleged gang and terrorist memberships.

It seems disingenuous for prison officials to lop together gang members and terrorists. This is typical of the government's attempts to first frighten the public into conceding more power and money to the government to fight the "War on Terrorism," regardless of whether the battles have any potential for affecting actual terrorism. Law enforcement officials have turned both "gang" and "terrorism" into a cottage industry designed to ensure a free flow of tax dollars by vastly exaggerating the scope, organization and effectiveness of gangs and terrorist organizations alike. Only three things are certain in life: death, taxes, and politicians who lie.

Sources: Daily Legal News; Houston Chronicle; USA Today.

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