The Federal Government’s highest security prison put prisoners in the harshest conditions
Florence, Colorado, is home of the Federal Government’s highest security prison: The United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX),
According to experts, ADX prisoners are exposed to more extreme conditions of isolation and sensory deprivation than any other facility in the country. ADX was designed to deter those locked up from plotting an escape. Cells are made of concrete with narrow windows that barely let in light. Outdoor cages for exercise, each about five by 10 steps, are built within a walled enclosure that resembles a swimming pool. Every prisoner spends 22 to 24 hours a day alone, reports Aviva Stahl in The Nation, June 4, 2019.
Blocked from interviewing current ADX inmates, Stahl interviewed men who had been held there as recently as 2015. She also interviewed defense attorneys and doctors knowledgeable about force-feeding. After 18 months of intensive research, she was able to break the silence on America’s most un-scrutinized prison.
Former ADX prisoner Mohommad Salameh was placed in H-Unit, the highest security section of the prison in 2002.
During his 10 years in H Unit, Salameh was force-fed nearly 200 times in response to hunger strikes.
Salameh’s ability to read, write letters and make phone calls were limited by special administrative mea- sures (SAMs). He wasn’t allowed to speak to other prisoners. The FBI monitored every aspect of his life, and he was barred from TV and radio news. All reading material had to be approved.
ADX is allowed to take 60 business days to mail out a letter in Arabic and 60 days to process an incoming one. If Salameh wrote a January letter to his mother in Jordan, he might not hear back before July.
Effects of long-term isolation can lead to mental impairments such as paranoia, hallucinations, hypersensitivity to stimuli and suicide attempts. Men at ADX grew so psychologically unstable from being alone they smeared feces onto open wounds and swallowed razor blades according to a lawsuit filed in 2012.
Salameh was convicted of participating in the first World Trade Center attack in 1994, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000. Prior to his arrival at ADX, he served time in several high-security prisons without being subjected to communication restrictions. After the 9/11 attacks on America, he and other individuals convicted of earlier terrorism offenses were moved to ADX.
SAMs were created in 1996 after the Oklahoma City bombing by American-born terrorist Timothy McVeigh. The regulations give the US Attorney
General discretion to impose measures if there is believed to be a “substantial risk” that a prisoner’s communication could pose a public threat. Regulations do not require a consultation with a judge. Criteria for SAMs has never been disclosed. Salameh and others in H-Unit have gone on hunger strikes to demand their SAMs be lifted.
Salameh came of age when Palestinians in Israeli prisons were going on repeated hunger strikes to protest their conditions of Israeli confinement. Salameh understood refusing to eat could be an effective means of resistance.
The number of prisoners under SAMs began to multiply from 16 in November, 2001, to 30 in June of 2017. The majority have been Muslims, according to a 2017 report by Yale Law School and Center for Constitutional Rights, which said the criteria to place under SAMS was not the person’s “demonstrated capacity to communicate dangerous information but rather the prisoner’s religion.”
In November of 2015 after Salameh had not eaten in 34 days a team of guards dressed in riot gear appeared at his cell door ordering him to “cuff up.” A week earlier when he was too weak to comply, guards had entered his cell and dragged him out. Not want- ing to be manhandled again he struggled to pull himself to his feet. The force team attached irons to his legs and handcuffed him. They took him to the medical treatment room, where he weighed in at 139 pounds. When asked if he would “drink this nutritional supplement voluntarily, by mouth?” Salameh refused. Guards stepped forward and strapped him into a black chair. A physician’s assistant took a long tube and inserted it through his nostril and down into his stomach, then the nutritional liquid was dripped through the tube into his body. Salameh said afterward the PA didn’t pull the plastic tube out gently, “He pulled as he is pull- ing it out a bull’s nose… He was trying hard to force me to stop my hunger strike by any way of means even if he causes me excessive pain.”
During another force- feeding, the PA attempted to feed Salameh 16 cartons of Novasource, (about a gallon of liquid) which caused him to repeatedly vomit up the contents of each carton.
The investigation by The Nation found that many human rights abuses that were perpetrated against hunger strikers at Guantanamo—and inspired public outrage—are occurring on American soil on a regular basis.
A spokesman for Bureau of Prisons said, “It is BOP’s responsibility to monitor the health and welfare of inmates and to ensure that procedures are pursued to preserve life.”
According to United Nations officials and medical experts, by force-feeding with the apparent intention of inflicting harm and not just providing treatment, the BOP is violating not only medical ethics but also international law.