Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Wake-Up Call for Civil Liberties

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Wake-Up Call for Civil Liberties

Article excerpt

Human Rights

The National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF) held an evening event at the Diyanet Center of America in Lanham, Maryland on Oct. 27. NCPCF executive director Dr. Mel Underbakke gave an overview of her organization, a coalition of individuals and organizations which seek to educate the public about the erosion of civil and political freedoms, and the abuses of prisoners within the U.S. criminal justice system. She described Communication Management Units (CMUs), designed to isolate and segregate certain prisoners in federal prisons. There are two CMUs, one in Terre Haute, Indiana (see May/June 2007 Washington Report, p. 12) and the other in Marion, Illinois. They house a total of 60 to 70 prisoners, over two-thirds of whom are Muslim, even though Muslims represent only 6 percent of the general federal prison population.

CMU prisoners are banned from physical contact with their visiting families and friends, and interactions with other prisoners and phone calls are limited. CMU detainees are given no explanation for why they've been placed in CMUs and no review process to allow them to transfer to the general population.

"The erosion of civil rights concerns us," Underbakke said as she described the arrest and 65-year prison sentences of Ghassan Elashi and Shukri Abu Baker, founders of the Holy Land Foundation, formerly the largest Islamic charity in the U.S. She described FBI?entrapment, families devastated by the cost of legal fees, unidentified key witnesses testifying behind a screen, and the growing number of incarcerated political prisoners.

Dr. Jonathan Brown of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University said he grew up taking the government's side in arguments until he got married and learned about the egregious case of his father-in-law, Dr. Sami Al-Arian. He is trying to teach his children not to be afraid, he said. …

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