Feds mistreat Muslim prisoners

The warden and guards at a federal prison discriminated and retaliated against Muslim inmates, the Justice Department’s inspector general said Friday in a report that also detailed allegations of mistreatment of Muslims at other U.S. lockups.

In one instance at the unidentified federal prison, the warden “unjustly and inappropriately” ordered an inmate transferred to special housing similar to solitary confinement for more than four months, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said. The move came five days after the inmate talked to Fine’s investigators.

Federal prosecutors declined to pursue criminal charges against the warden, and the incident was referred to the federal Bureau of Prisons, he said.

The treatment of Muslim prisoners was part of a semiannual report Fine produces about possible civil rights or civil liberties violations by the Justice Department.

The inspector general began one new investigation in the last half of 2004. It involves allegations that guards at another federal prison abused a Muslim inmate and allowed other inmates to assault him.

Fine also noted that the federal prison officials have yet to discipline anyone for the abuse more than a year after he documented the mistreatment of Arabs and Muslims detained at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

In addition, prison officials told the inspector general they discovered more videotapes of the detainees at the Brooklyn facility, as well as of meetings between detainees and their lawyers. Previously disclosed tapes helped confirm that guards slammed detainees against walls, twisted their arms and conducted unnecessary strip searches. The prisons bureau and Fine are investigating why the other tapes were not given to them sooner.

Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said she had not seen Fine’s report. “We take all allegations of staff misconduct very seriously and all are thoroughly investigated by BOP’s office of internal affairs,” she said.

The report stems from a provision of the anti-terror Patriot Act authorizing the inspector general to review complaints about civil liberties and civil rights abuses involving Justice Department personnel.

None of the complaints alleged misconduct relating to the Patriot Act, Fine said.

The latest report covers June 22 to the end of 2004. During that time, the inspector general received 1,943 such complaints, very few of which required investigation.

More than 1,300 did not cite an improper action by a Justice Department employee or include farfetched claims, such as that the government was using broadcast signals to interfere with a person’s thoughts or lacing prison food with hallucinogenic drugs. Another 435 involved personnel from government agencies not under the inspector general’s jurisdiction.

Of the remaining 195 complaints, only 12 were determined to warrant further review. Of those, only the inmate case involved potentially criminal behavior, Fine said.

Several investigations begun last year are continuing, including the arrest of Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield in connection with the Madrid train bombings a year ago. A Muslim convert, Mayfield was arrested in May on a material witness warrant after an FBI analysis concluded his fingerprint matched one found on a bag containing detonators like those used in the attacks in Spain.

A few weeks later, Mayfield was released after the FBI acknowledged it had made a mistake, and the fingerprint did not match Mayfield’s.

Fine also is investigating three other cases involving alleged mistreatment in the federal detention of Muslims and Arabs. He referred seven other complaints from Muslim inmates to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Several cases were closed during the six-month period:

-A prison guard admitted showing a Muslim inmate a picture of a naked woman and scratching in the area of his groin before attempting to shake inmates’ hands, but an investigation found no evidence of discrimination against an inmate based on religion or politics.

-Fine found nothing to substantiate allegations by four people of Arab descent who say they were improperly detained by the FBI while trying to enter the United States.

-Investigators similarly did not find evidence to support a claim from a Muslim man that he was abused by FBI and immigration agents from his arrest in March 2002 to his deportation a month later.

On the Net:

Justice Department inspector general: http://www.usdoj.gov/oig

© 2005 The Associated Press