The Oasis Reporters
January 12, 2020
In a flashback twelve years ago, global turmoil intruded on Barack Obama’s first Christmas Day as President in Hawaii when an Al-Qaeda operative tried and failed to down a US airliner over Detroit with a bomb hidden in his underwear. An initially sluggish White House response was blamed by critics on Obama’s seclusion nearly 5,000 miles from Washington. It was a lesson his team never forgot during seven subsequent Christmas trips to his native state.
The Alqaeda operative was the son of a northern banking mogul, Alhaji Mutallab, one would have thought would only be cocooning in Nigeria’s upper class privileges and not be involved in the pursuits of ordinary classed personages.
No one can say anything much of what became of the young lad who had to be put in an American jail.
That was until Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is serving multiple life sentences for trying to blow up an airliner in 2009, was said to have sued the Justice Dept. over his treatment by prison officials in 2017.
The Nigerian born Abdulmutallab serving multiple life sentences for trying to blow up an airliner with a bomb hidden in his underwear has sued the Justice Department, his argument was that prison officials were violating his rights by holding him in solitary confinement, restricting his communication with relatives and force-feeding him when he goes on a hunger strike to protest.
The prisoner, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is a particularly high-profile terrorist who was prosecuted in civilian court. He tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airplane on Christmas Day 2009 as part of a plot by Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. The device burned his groin but failed to explode, saving the lives of the other 289 people aboard.
After pleading guilty in 2012, Mr. Abdulmutallab was sent to the federal “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado, and an appeals court in 2014 upheld his conviction and sentence. Little has been heard from him since then. But a lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Federal District Court in Colorado opened a window on what his life has been like.
Its description resonates with many of the issues raised by the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The force-feeding of detainees on hunger strikes there has been the subject of recurring dispute. And ever since Mr. Abdulmutallab’s attack, when political fallout scuttled the Obama administration’s plan to bring five detainees to New York to be tried in the Sept. 11 attacks, many Republicans have argued that the civilian criminal justice system should not be used to handle foreign terrorism suspects.
Mr. Abdulmutallab’s lawsuit does not portray the civilian criminal justice system as coddling him. It said the Justice Department subjected him to “special administrative measures,” severely limiting his ability to communicate with people in the outside world for national-security reasons, and placed him in the penitentiary’s “H-Unit,” where prisoners subjected to such restrictions live alone in single cells.
His complaint about life in Florence invokes what he portrays as constitutional violations, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that requires the government to accommodate religious practices. Although he is an observant Muslim, the complaint said, he has not been given halal food prepared according to Islamic law, nor has he been permitted to pray collectively with other Muslims or given access to an imam.
During prayer time, it also said, guards permit “white supremacist” inmates in the special security unit to “curse, yell, scream, and say things that are religiously insulting and offensive to Muslims,” and guards sometimes displayed pornography to him while he was trying to pray and, while searching his cell, “defiled” his prayer rug and Quran, ripping its pages and leaving a sticky liquid on it.
His lawyer, Gail Johnson, said in a statement that Abdulmutallab’s rights were being violated.
“Prisoners retain fundamental constitutional rights to communicate with others and have family relationships free from undue interference by the government,” she said. “The restrictions imposed on our client are excessive and unnecessary, and therefore we seek the intervention of the federal court.”
In protest of the treatment he alleges, along with restrictions on communicating with relatives like his sister and nieces and nephews, Mr. Abdulmutallab began a hunger strike, the complaint said. In response, prison officials transferred him to an even more restrictive part of the prison known as Range 13, where human contact, even with guards, is rare. The complaint cited a recent Justice Department inspector general report in which a Florence prison psychologist said Range 13 was “a form of torture on some level” and qualified as solitary confinement.
On several occasions, Mr. Abdulmutallab has engaged in a hunger strike to protest, the complaint said, but ceased after being force-fed. As at Guantánamo, the procedure involves being strapped into a restraint chair and having liquid nutritional supplement poured into his stomach through a nasogastric tube inserted through his nose.
The complaint accuses prison officials of using force-feeding before Mr. Abdulmutallab’s life was in danger, and said they are administering it in an unnecessarily painful way by pouring a large volume in very quickly. On one occasion, it said, they inserted the tube into his windpipe rather than his esophagus and poured the supplement into his lungs, making him feel like he was being drowned.
Donald Trump’s last Christmas in the White was not particularly one full of mirth. The election did not favour him, yet he did not want to quit office, plotting to overturn the declared results.
With weeks to a change of administration, Trump is getting increasingly isolated. He has been roundly blamed by ex Presidents George Bush, himself a Republican, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who all had perfect Christmas celebrations before their departure.
With additional reporting from:
CNN’s Meanwhile In America
The New York Times