April 6, 2010, Washington, D.C.— Over three years after opening secretive “Communications Management Units,” or “CMUs,” the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) took one step toward correcting its illegal and discriminatory segregation of Muslims and political prisoners by opening its actions to public scrutiny. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) challenged the CMUs for violations of fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to due process, in a lawsuit filed last week.
The lawsuit, which is called Aref v. Holder, raises a number of substantial constitutional claims and also states that the units were created in violation of federal law, because the public was not given the requisite opportunity to learn about the CMUs and comment on the soundness of the proposed policy. Attorneys say the BOP’s late attempt to correct that omission by proposing a rule disclosing CMU policy is an implicit acknowledgment that the units are unparalleled in the federal prison system, and an admission that the BOP violated the law by operating the unique units secretly for more than three years.
“While we welcome the BOP’s decision to finally comply with its legal obligations—albeit over three years too late—the proposed rule does not make these experimental isolation units constitutional,” said CCR staff attorney Alexis Agathocleous. “Our clients’ experiences clearly demonstrate the abusive and arbitrary nature of the CMUs.” For example, the proposed rule states that CMU prisoners, when possible, are provided a detailed explanation of the information that has led to their designation. In reality, many prisoners have simply been told that their designation was based on “reliable evidence.” Their requests to be told the nature of this evidence are denied. Others received an explanation for their designation that included factually incorrect information, with no opportunity for correction.
The men detained in the CMUs have heavily restricted telephone and visitation access, and are categorically forbidden from hugging, touching or embracing their children or spouses during visits. Attorneys say this blanket ban on contact visitation, which is unique in the federal prison system, not only causes suffering to the families of the incarcerated men, but is a violation of fundamental constitutional rights. The units are also being used overwhelmingly to hold Muslim prisoners and prisoners with unpopular political beliefs.
Family members of some CMU prisoners expressed surprise that the proposed rule did not acknowledge the blanket ban on contact visitation that has been in effect at both CMU units since their inception. “I haven’t been able to hug my husband, or even hold his hand, for two years,” said Jenny Synan, the spouse of a CMU prisoner and a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “This proposed rule does not explain how prohibiting a husband from holding his wife’s hand or keeping a father from hugging his daughter, is necessary for prison security.”
For more information on Aref v. Holder, visit CCR’s legal case page or http://ccrjustice.org/ourcases/current-cases/aref,-et-al.-v.-holder,-et-al.
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 ccrjustice.org.