A prisoner prohibited from speaking to his family for four months after uttering the words “As-Salaam-Alaikum.” Books that have to be destroyed after one prisoner reads them, lest he somehow use the pages to pass along secret notes. Letters to family members that have to be copied and analyzed by intelligence officers before they are sent out, meaning they may take months and months to arrive.
These are the types of restrictions faced by a small number of prisoners locked up in the United States, including some people who have never been convicted of a crime The rules, called Special Administrative Measures, or SAMs, are the subject of a recently released report by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Yale Law School’s Allard K. Lowenstein’s International Human Rights Clinic. The study, an unusual undertaking, makes the case that SAMs violate both U.S. and international law, threaten basic constitutional protections, and may even constitute torture.
Just about 50 prisoners nationwide were subject to SAMs as of June this year, most of them Muslim. Prisoners who have previously been subject to this sort of detention describe the experience as like being in a world unto itself, in which they have no human contact with anyone other than their lawyers and very occasional, highly restricted communication with immediate family members. Many of those on SAMs have developed mental health issues as a result of the isolation, which may prevent them from contributing to their own defense. Moreover, people under SAMs are prohibited from contacting the media, and their attorneys and family members could be prosecuted for revealing anything the prisoner has said — meaning the highly restrictive world of SAMs is highly secretive, too.
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