In this edition of the Human Voices in the War on Terror we focus on the story of Mufid Abdulqader, a Palestinian lawyer and former member of the Holy Land Foundation, one of the first charities to become targeted as part of the ‘War on Terror’ for alleged links to Hamas. He writes here about his experiences within America’s prison system and notorious SHU’s (Secure housing units). CAGE has documented the systemic Islamophobia in American prisons and the extremely sweeping nature of terrorism charges in our reports “Guantanamo begins at home” and “Too blunt for just outcomes”.
“In our case, it was lawless. No rules applied to us. They could do and say whatever they wanted to us and we had no recourse other than to complain to the same ones abusing us.”
After the conviction in November 2008, all five of us were moved from the District Court to Seagoville Detention Center and immediately placed in the SHU (Solitary Confinement). This was the most difficult time of our lives. Verbal abuse from the guards was the norm. Guards would ignore our request for anything (toilet paper, pencils, phone calls (one phone call a month), additional blankets, clothes or any other request made by inmates in the SHU.
During our family visit, we were shackled from the cell all the way to an isolated visiting room with a glass window separating us from our families. We could not touch our loved ones. It was a non-contact monitored visit. We had to use the phone to talk to them. The guards made it a point for our families to see us shackled when they were bringing us to the visiting room. This was also some of the most difficult time for our families as well.
My children would put their hands on the window trying to touch my hand. Many of these visits were spent in tears for my children, my wife and I. We could only talk for 1-2 hours each visit although the amount of time we spent visiting was totally dependent on when the guard decided to bring us into the room.
After four months in the SHU and in February-April 2009, we were let out to the general population one by one, within a week or two of each other. While we were in the SHU, we were separated, each one of us was housed in a cell with bank robbers, drug dealers or other criminals. Each cell in the SHU housed only two inmates. We were even separated and not allowed to be in a cell that is adjacent to the cell where one of us was housed. Ghassan was the first one let out into the general population, followed by Elmezain, Shukri, and I and after a month they let Abdurrahman out.
The three of of us were placed in one unit of the Detention Center while the other two were placed in a totally separate unit. No explanation was given as to why it was done this way. When we were in general population in Seagoville Detention Center, we were singled out for harsh treatment by the guards and other staff.
In one instance Shukri and I were taken to the SHU of the prison, not the SHU of the Detention Center. There was a big difference between these two SHU’s. The Prison’s SHU was extremely dirty, no air-conditioning, broken windows. Roaches, ants, mosquitoes were everywhere. You could not sleep, eat or even lay down without mosquitoes attacking you from every direction.
We were never given any reason as to why we had been placed in the SHU. The Warden and Associate Warden and other staff came to the SHU during their routine weekly round and no one was willing to give us a reason why we were there. We stayed there for four days and then we were moved to the SHU of the Detention Center. Two days later we were moved back to general population in the Detention Centre.
I tried to get an answer as to the reasons for this treatment from the Warden and other staff but I never received one. Every time I asked, I was told that they would get back to me and they never did. Until today, I still do not know why we were moved in the middle of July (the hottest month of the year in Texas) to the prison’s SHU.
Based on the Bureau of Prison (BOP) regulations and within 24 hours, when an inmate is placed in the SHU, he is entitled to a written explanation signed by the lieutenant explaining why he has been placed in the SHU. He is either given an Incident Report explaining his violation of the rules or given a formal written explanation if he is involved in an issue that is under investigation. In our case, even after six days we never received any written or verbal explanation whatsoever.
We were singled out, and our family visits shortened
In our case, it was lawless, no rules applied to us. They could do and say whatever they wanted and we had no recourse other than to complain to the same ones abusing us. Many times, we were told by the guards that we were dangerous terrorists and that we will be placed in the ADX (Maximum Security Prison in Colorado).
They searched our cells more often and threw away many of our personal belongings. Our mail was always late and required special scrutiny before it was given to us. Our outgoing mail was always late and also required special scrutiny.
They went to special lengths to separate us. Even during our visits, none of us were allowed to be in the visiting room at the same time another one of us was visiting with his family, even though we were together in the Detention Center. Because of this separation during the visit we were only allowed 1/4 of the allowable visiting time afforded to other inmates. I still believe to this day that our treatment in the Detention Center was always directed and controlled by the prosecutor’s office in Dallas even though according to law they should have nothing to do with our incarceration after the conviction.
In these six days in the prison’s SHU, we were not allowed to make phone calls, received no mail and had no contact with anyone other than the guards running the SHU, and they were instructed not to talk to us. They placed a sign on my cell directing the guards not to communicate with me in any shape or form. I saw the sign on the day I was coming out of the cell. When we were in the SHU, (Shukri and I) were placed in different cells on different floors of the SHU.
After being in the Detention Center, the government asked the judge to remove his order to keep us in Seagoville until our appeal was heard and they succeeded with the help of the Warden (the judge had never rejected any government request during the trial, why would he do it now?).
Transferred without notice, and then they ruined my Qu’ran
In April of 2010, the Case Manager and the Counselor called me to a hallway outside the housing unit of the Detention Center and told me to turn around and handcuffed me and took me to the SHU. Minutes later, all 4 of us (Shukri, Ghassan, Elmezain and I) were in the SHU. Abdurrahman was shipped out earlier to California. No explanation of any kind was ever given to us.
As I mentioned before, we were allowed one hour of recreation during weekdays. They would normally come and ask us if we wanted to go to the outside cages for the one hour recreation. If you said yes, they would normally come back five minutes later and ask you to stick your hand through the hole of the door to handcuff you, then they would open the door and take you out for that hour.
After being held in the Detention Center’s (SHU) for two weeks, one morning the guards came in at the normal time for recreation and asked me and Ghassan if we want to go for recreation and we said yes. Minutes later, they came back and handcuffed both of us and instead of taking us to the outside cages for recreation, we were taken to R&D (Receive and Discharge Department). This is the section of the prison that receives and processes new inmates coming into the prison, or ships out inmates from this prison to other prisons/facilities.
When I arrived with Ghassan to the R&D Department, I noticed that Shukri was already there and was waiting in a holding cell. I heard Shukri asking one of the guards to get him his glasses which he had left in the SHU cell. Shukri explained to him that he had not taken his glasses because he had thought that he was going to recreation but now that he was going somewhere else and probably would never go back there, he needed his glasses. The guard became extremely upset and screamed at him and told him that he had to manage without his glasses. Shukri explained to him that not having his glasses would cause the return of his migraine headaches (which he had been suffering from for a long time). He told him that he could not see without glasses. The guard walked away, never responded to Shukri and never came back.
After about two hours we were on the bus leaving Seagoville Detention Center. Normally before you would leave any prison, R&D Dept would pack your property in your presence, make an inventory/list of all items you are allowed to take with you, put them in boxes and ship them out to your designated prison. They would give you a copy of the list of the items to verify with staff at your destination. We were never given that opportunity to pack our property. When I arrived in Marion and received my property packed by Seagoville staff without my presence, I discovered many items missing or destroyed. Packs of juices and honey containers were opened and spilt on many of my books including my Qu’ran, on my clothes and food. I filed a claim and the BOP refused to compensate me for all my losses which mounted to over $400.
Mufiq Abdulqader is currently serving a 20 year sentence in FMC Lexington, Kentucky, USA. His release date is due in 2026.
Photo courtesy of ACLU
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)