Carl Strock The Daily Gazette, Schenectady 3/15/09

Here is a suggestion for President Obama: If you’re going to close Guantanamo, close the Communication Management Unit at Terre Haute prison in Indiana also. That’s the former death row that in December 2006 was converted into a prison-within-a-prison basically for Muslims convicted of some kind of connection with terrorism but not of being terrorists themselves. (Actual terrorists are kept in the ADX “supermax” prison in Colorado.)

Among the prisoners at the CMU in Terre Haute are Yassin Aref of Albany and Dr. Rafil Dhafir of Rome, N.Y., which is why I take an interest in it. I got to know Yassin a little bit before his trial a couple of years ago in federal court in Albany, and I don’t believe he’s any more a supporter of terrorism than I am.

I don’t know Dr. Dhafir, but he wasn’t even accused of supporting terrorism, much less convicted of it, despite the sensationalism surrounding his arrest. He was convicted of sending money to an Iraqi charity without obtaining the necessary license, something that would ordinarily be trivial but that he did at the wrong moment of history.

Yassin Aref was sentenced to 15 years for allowing himself to be duped by an FBI agent provocateur, a matter that I have written about previously. Dr. Dhafir was sentenced to 22 years for illegal money transfer.

As inmates of the CMU they are allowed only one 15-minute phone call a week, in contrast to regular inmates in the other part of the prison, who are allowed five hours of phone conversations a week. They are allowed only two visits a month for a maximum of two hours each, on business days only, as opposed to other inmates, who are allowed all-day visits including on weekends and holidays.

Their visits are conducted through plate-glass windows, by telephone, as opposed to other prisoners, who have face-to-face visits in which they can hug or hold hands.

Because of the travel distance involved, Yassin has had only two visits from his family in the two years he has been confined.

Restrictions are so severe, or so petty, that one of his volunteer lawyers, Steve Downs, was kicked out of a visit after having driven two days from Albany to get there, because he had a ballpoint pen with him for taking notes. The pen was considered a forbidden “recording instrument.”

I don’t know how many prisoners are in the CMU. By information and belief there were originally 41, but there are now more, including some non-Muslims, who were probably added to prevent a charge of religious discrimination.

The Muslims, by the way, are not allowed to pray together, ostensibly on security grounds, which is another aspect of the harassment of them.

Three CMU inmates have filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons claiming not only religious discrimination but lack of any regulatory basis for the existence of this special unit, and that lawsuit is pending.

As far as I can tell, the CMU is just another example of misdirected response on the part of our government to the very real threat of Islamic terrorism.

Round up Muslims who only with a stretch of the imagination can be regarded as sympathetic to terrorists and confine them under such severe supervision that they can’t even embrace their children. Then tell yourself you are protecting the United States.

If Guantanamo can be closed, I guess maybe the Terre Haute CMU can be closed also and the prisoners there treated like other prisoners, all pretenses dropped.