Dr. Sami Al-Arian Conditions during the first 2 years at Coleman Federal Penetentiary (2003-2005)
From March 27, 2003 until February 8, 2005, Dr. Al-Arian was held in Coleman Federal Penitentiary, where the horrendous conditions of confinement under which he suffered for almost two years were clearly meant to psychologically break and torture him.
Despite years of investigation, neither Dr. Al-Arian nor his co-defendants, all of whom were fully aware of the ongoing investigation, ever attempted to flee the country. Yet on April 10, 2003, Dr. Al-Arian and Sameeh Hammoudeh, who under U.S. law may only be denied bail if they pose a flight risk or a threat to the community, were denied bail.
When they were initially arrested on February 20, 2003, Dr. Al-Arian and Mr. Hammoudeh were held at the local Orient Road Jail in Tampa. On March 27, 2003, they were moved 75 miles away to Coleman Federal Penitentiary, a maximum-security facility in Coleman, Florida, and placed under the harshest possible conditions. As the only detainees in the facility who had not been tried, much less convicted of any crime, Dr. Al-Arian and Mr. Hammoudeh clearly did not belong in this facility. Moreover, they were placed in isolation in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), a section of the prison normally reserved for punishing inmates who misbehave. Some of the atrocious conditions imposed on him at Coleman were Guantanamo-like conditions (with the exceptions of limited phone calls and visistations) that included:
(A depiction by an artist of how Dr. Al-Arian used to walk almost half a mile shackled, cuffed behind his back, and bent over to carry his legal material on his back- because guards refused to carry them- on his way to meet his lawyers in prison)
- A small, windowless cell with no control over lighting, which is normally turned on.
- Held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and many times 24 hours per day.
- The infrequent one hour-excercise was in a bit bigger cage during night time with no sunshine exposure.
- Did not see sunshine for weeks until limited transfers to Tampa for court hearings or discovery.
- Limited medical attention for his diabetes and asthma.
- Subjected to continuous extremely low temperatures in the cell.
- Limited amount and change of undergarments and clothes.
- Allowed only one 15-minute phone call per month (denied for 6 months between June and December 2003.)
- Allowed limited visits with immediate family only. All visits are noncontact visits.
- Frequent, intrusive and insulting strip-searches even though he has no contacts with anyone.
- Exposed to deafenning fire alarms to as much as 5-10 times per day, each time 10-15 minutes.
- Continuous harrassment and "shakedowns", that left the cell upside down including confiscating some of his legal notes.
- Handcuffing him from the back everytime he leaves his cell; even handcuffed from the back during the occasional check-up by doctors or for medical lab tests.
- Unlike other convicted prisoners he had very limited access to canteen items, including winter undergarmets, pencils and writing materials.
- Limited access to attorneys, and when meeting putting severe restrictions on time.
- Very limited access to the evidence against him (documents, electronic phone interceptions, etc.) which needed computers (not allowed) or equipment that kept failing or batteries that were infrequently provided or charged.
The respected international human rights monitor, Amnesty International, sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons describing Dr. Al-Arian's detention as "gratuitously punitive."
The group cited the 23-hour lockdown, strip searches, use of chains and shackles, severely limited recreation, lack of access to any religious service and denial of a watch or clock in a windowless cell where the artificial light is frequently on.
Amnesty concluded: "The prolonged cellular confinement, lack of exercise, frequent shackling and other deprivations imposed on Dr. Al-Arian are inconsistent with international standards and treaties which require that all persons deprived of their liberty must be treated humanely with respect for their inherent human dignity." But in this case, "We're particularly concerned because he's a pretrial detainee," says Angela Wright, an Amnesty researcher in London told the Palm Beach Post.
- Also see: For some defendants, an American gulag (2003)
- Horendous Conditions in Atlanta Prison (2007)
- Prison Guard Threatens Dr. Al-Arian's Life (2007)
- Abusive Treatment continues: 36-hour ordeal (2008)
- Shocking Abuse in New Facility (2008)
- Worst Prison Conditions since Florida (2008)
- Conditions from Bad to Worse (2008)
On his prison experience, Dr. Al-Arian wrote several poems, here are some of them:
Conditions at Orient Road Jail vs. Coleman Penitentiary
|Orient Road Jail||Coleman Penitentiary|
|Distance||5 miles from family||75 miles from family|
|Attorney Access||Accessible to Attorneys (24 hours per day)
||Far from Attorneys with limited days and hours.
|Telephone Use||1 hour/day||15 minutes per month|
|Visits||Everyday-7 days a week||2 days/wk - one week
4 days/wk - the next
|Time of Visits||Morning/Afternoon/Evening||8am-2 pm only|
|Allowed Visitors||Friends and Family||Immediate Family Only|
1 hr outdoors/day
|1 hr indoors, infrequent, between the hours of 9pm and 6 am. (no sunshine)
No outdoor recreation.
|TV/Radio||Yes/Many stations||No/ Few Stations.|
|Guards||Always available observing.||No guards or observation.|
Multiple available at one time.
|Only one set per week|
|Pens/Pencils||Mechanical pencils, Black pens available||Non-mechanical pencils rarely available. No sharpeners available or erasers. limited writing materials.
|Contact with Convicted Felons||No interaction whatsoever.||Housed in the same unit but in isolated cells with murderers, rapists, drug-dealers, and other convicted felons.|
|Knowing the Time of Day||There was a clock on the wall to know time, especially important for prayer.||It's very difficult to know what time of the day or night it is, since there are no clocks or guards at hand.|
|False Fire Alarms||N/A||5-12 times per day with deafening sounds, each for 10-15 minutes.|
|Banging on Doors||N/A||It's a continuous phenomenon for inmates to bang loudly on their doors daily. Sometimes for over 30 minutes at a time.|
|Vulgarities & Obscenities||N/A||Heard daily for over 2 hours at night as inmates shout at each other.|
|Canteens||Available||Very restrictive in the maximum
Read about what a respected international human rights organization said about Dr. Al-Arian's conditions of confinement.
For the list of prisons Dr. Al-Arian has been transferred to from 2/20/2003 to 9/2/2008 click: Prisons