Attorneys Denounce Human Rights Court Ruling that Allows Prisoners to be Held in Torturous Conditions

September 27, 2012 – In response to the European Court of Human Rights’s (ECtHR) ruling in Babar Ahmad and others v. The United Kingdom earlier this week, which allows five men held in the UK to be extradited to the U.S. to face terrorism charges, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:

The ruling of the European Court of Human Rights denied the human rights of these men, and one of the most fundamental of all – the right not to be tortured and subjected to inhumane treatment.  In fighting their extradition to the U.S., the men claimed that the conditions in which they would likely be imprisoned if convicted – solitary confinement for years at the Administrative Maximum (“ADX”) prison in Colorado, the most restrictive federal prison in the country – would constitute torture and inhumane treatment.  A former ADX warden himself once described the place as “a clean version of hell.” Tragically, the Court closed its eyes to this reality.
At ADX, prisoners are held in cells the size of a bathroom for 22 to 24 hours a day, every day. For two hours five days a week, they get “recreation,” which means pacing in an “outdoor” cage with no view of their surroundings and an obstructed view of the sky, or in a windowless indoor cell with a pull-up bar. For the remaining two days, they are confined to their cells for 24 hours. The cells themselves are made of steel and concrete, prohibiting any communication, save for shouting through the toilet. The lack of contact and unobstructed communication extends to visits with family members, advocates and attorneys, where a prisoner and his visitor are separated by a thick wall of glass and speak through a mouthpiece or a phone. 
The Court’s failure to recognize the inhumanity of these conditions for what they are was aided by the United States, which shamelessly claimed that conditions at ADX do not constitute solitary confinement because, for example, prisoners can shout to each other through the vents in their cells. Based on a selective sample of just 30 of the nearly 500 prisoners at ADX, the government also claimed that prisoners spend less than half the number of years at ADX than a more representative sample shows. While the defense had evidence to the contrary, including a submission by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Court denied their ability to rebut the government’s claims, going against its own fair hearing standards.
The conditions at ADX are of course not unique among prisons in the United States; indeed, tens of thousands of people are held in solitary confinement in prisons around the country. Recognition of the illegality and inhumanity of these conditions is growing both in the United States and internationally. The European Court’s ruling was regrettably in the wrong direction.


The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at


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September 27, 2012