Abdulmutallab, Umar Farouk

Underwear Bomber Sues Over Treatment in Supermax Prison

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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.

The press office of the Bureau of Prisons had no immediate response to a request for comment. But Gail Johnson, an attorney for Mr. Abdulmutallab, said in a statement that his 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.

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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