Free Shifa
The Story of Ehsanul "Shifa" Sadequee PDF Print E-mail

Ehsanul “Shifa” Sadequee was born on July 30, 1986 in Reston, Virginia.  As a new-born  infant,

Shifa traveled to Bangladesh with his parents where, in his first year of life, he began experiencing

acute respiratory  illnesses such as chronic asthma and bouts of  broncho- pneumonia. Because

of these health issues, well-respected doctors in Bangladesh advised   Shifa’s parents that they

should not remainin Bangladesh but return to the U.S. where Shifa could receive the best medical

care and thrive in a better climate.  Shifa’s parents  immediately complied, returned to the  

United States, and took extra care of their youngest child, continuing to feed him through  a

tube to avoid aggravating his  delicate respiratory system. 

 

In spite of facing serious medical challenges, Shifa shared a playful and happy childhood growing

up in Atlanta, Georgia with two older sisters, Sharmin and Sonali and an older brother Amimul.

 Friends remember him as a kind, jolly and moderately shy little boy who enjoyed drawing,

painting, and learning new languages like Arabic and translating ancient Arabic religious text into

English. He was also an avid reader delving into books of poetry, religion and spirituality,

and history. At home, Shifa gladly performed household chores and enjoyed receiving guidance

from his  older brother and two older sisters.His siblings, in turn, enjoyed taking care of their little

brother and often bought him books to read. His favorite gifts were books of riddles and jokes

which he liked reading aloud to his family in order to make them laugh. Shifa also cared for a 

menagerie of pets including cats, dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits. As Shifa grew and his health 

improved, he was able to take part in outdoor activities and,as a teenager, he participated in

several sports such as soccer, tennis,  and swimming.  

 

Shifa’s sister, Sharmin, recalls that, as a little boy, her brother was concerned about the  plight of

living things, often reminding his big sister to keep her eyes on the ground or pavement when

she walked to make sure she didn’t step on small bugs. One day, when Sharmin tried to give her

11-year old brother a sandwich, some fruit, and several other snacks he said that he only needed 

the sandwich because “it is a good thing to keep our   stomachs a little empty, so we can feel the

people who are hungry in this world.”  

 

Shifa attended a parochial Muslim high school in Canada, taking classes in religious and classical

Arabic studies as well as  standard high school courses. Soon after, in 2001, he returned to

Bangladesh to live with his parents and finish high school. Once again, however, he fell ill from

environmental pollution in Dhaka so his parents decided to keep him at home where they

home-schooled him. 

 

When he returned to the U.S. in 2004, Shifa worked with his sister Sonali at a women’s rights 

organization dedicated to the eradication of violence against women. He volunteered and

co-organized social justice events with Men Stopping Violence and many local social  justice

and civil rights organizations.  During this time, he started learning how to cook, how to drive a car, how

to budget funds with his new part-time income, and how to make phone calls to institutions of

higher learning to inquire about college prep courses for his future. He also developed an appetite

for television variety shows finding pleasure in the comedic skills of Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien.  

 

The Kidnap 

Shifa traveled to Bangladesh to get married in 2005. On April 17, 2006, he and his wife were

returning home when he was kidnapped by Bangladesh authorities at the request of  the U.S.

government. His family did not know where he was for four days. The family learned later that

the FBI kidnapped Shifa and flew him via Alaska to New York aboard a “secret” CIA plane,  

stripping off his clothes and wrapping him in a plastic-like material during the flight. 

 

The High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh later declared Shifa’s detention,

deportation, and handover to  U.S. authorities illegal because it violated international laws.

In New York, Shifa was charged with making a false statement to the FBI. However, in pre-trial

hearings several years later, the FBI revealed Shifa had never lied to them; rather, it was the  FBI

who had lied in the initial indictment to capture him. While he was in Bangladesh, FBI agents had

communicated with  him via e-mail and chat forums, pretending to be his teenaged friends.

 In addition, the government searched his luggage and found a map of Washington, D.C. This,

coupled with his sending videos  of tourist sites in Washington, D.C. to his online friends, apparently

caused the government to reinterpret these normal activities  as something sinister, although

prosecutors conceded that Shifa was not discussing a terrorist plot. They claimed that he was trying

to get in contact with people who the government considered “terrorist” abroad, and that he was

in some way “associated” with the Toronto 18, since he and Syed Haris Ahmad had met with some  

of the young men who were entrapped in Canada by a  Canadian government informant.  

The Case 

Shifa and his friend Syed Haris Ahmed were involved in online chatrooms with youth, although 

no plans were formed to do anything illegal.  Based on evidence from 2004 and 2005, Shifa was 

chargedcwith supporting a foreign organization that was not listed on the U.S. Department of State’s

list of terrorist organizations, Lashkar E Taiba (LET), a group struggling to liberate  Muslim-dominated

Kashmir from India. The organization did not exist in 2004 and 2005, however, and was not designated

as a terrorist organization in the U.S. until   after Shifa was apprehended in April 2006.  

The evidence against Shifa included online chats between teenagers about religious literature  that he had

translated from Arabic to English and published online. He was also accused of sharing videos of tourist

sites with his online friends, but the photos were never posted   anywhere online. During the trial in 2009,

the government could not demonstrate a single  conversation or sentence from the online chats that

included plans or plots. 

Prosecutors offered him a plea bargain in exchange for dropping three charges, he could plead guilty

to one count of material support for terrorism, agree to identify other teenagers from the chats, and testify

against Syed Haris Ahmed and other Muslims who were also facing similar charges. Shifa refused. 

 

Torture in Prisons 

Shifa was imprisoned in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC)  for

three and half months before the government transferred him to the Atlanta Penitentiary in August 2006.

In Atlanta, he was placed in solitary confinement for over 1,300 days (over 3 years).  During this time,

his health declined significantly and subjected to prison violence.  Since 2010, after his conviction, he has

been held in the Communications Management Units (CMUs) in Marion, Illinois, and in  Terre Haute, Indiana.

CMUs are known as “Guantanamo North” where Muslims convicted of “terrorism” related charges are

segregated from the rest of the prison population. Muslim prisoners in the CMUs do not have access to the

outside  world and regular communication with their families. Their religious and spiritual services and

observances are severely restricted and controlled.

 The Trial 

The evidence at trial demonstrated that Shifa did not send videos to LET; that he did not send his co-defendant, Ahmed, to Pakistan to join LET; and that Ahmed never joined LET despite multiple opportunities to do so. Information related to Shifa’s kidnapping in Bangladesh was not presented to the jury during the trial. The majority of government witnesses were FBI agents who did not participate in the online chats between teenagers but were allowed to present and interpret the “evidence.” No actual participants in the chats were brought to testify at trial to interpret the chats for the jury. Jurors admitted being prejudicial towards Islam and Muslims but were approved to participate in the trial. Some jurors slept as  evidence was being presented. Their deliberation lasted only a few hours. No act of violence was committed by Shifa, his co-defendant, nor anyone else. The connections to other teenagers abroad were used as evidence only because they too were Muslims.

 

The word “jihad” and quotations from the Qur’an with mistranslated interpretations were also used as evidence at the federaltrial. Religious expression and the debates of teenagers were taken out of context by the government to paint them all as “terrorists” and to prosecute them preemptively.  The full transcripts of the actual chats remained classified and were not presented to the jury. Shifa was convicted on all four counts of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorist organizations and sentenced to seventeen years with 30 years of surveillance to follow the full prison term.  The judge granted prosecution all their requests and suppressed key evidence requested by the defense. Information related to the kidnapping of Shifa in Bangladesh, the physical assault on him in prison, the torture during pre-trial solitary confinement, and the persecution of his free speech and expression were not allowed to be brought forward for consideration.  

 

Shifa represented himself at his own trial with no legal background. The prosecution took advantage of Shifa’s lack of knowledge of the law and submitted evidence that had no connection to Shifa or the case. Shifa is a US citizen and his rights to read, write and translate materials, freedom of expression and speech were violated by his own government. 

 

The Community 

A diverse representation of multiple communities came out every day to support Shifa and his family. The Muslim community was joined by African-American, white, and Latino activists who believed in Shifa’s innocence and condemned the government’s attempts to   malign and indict Shifa’s character despite the lack of criminal activity. Shifa addressed the court directly throughout the four-year legal proceedings and represented himself at his trial from jury selection to sentencing. Through his self-representation, Shifa challenged the federal court, the American judicial system, the foundation and narratives of     the U.S. government's War on Terror, and hidden aspects of the U.S. Empire. His case and trial exposed that these preemptive prosecution cases bend the existing legal framework and use flawed, manufactured logic to further the need for expanded national security systems. 

 

Shifa did not commit any crime. The government simply manufactured one based on guilt by association and used him as a scapegoat to establish precedent for future domestic terrorist cases. 

 

Shifa’s Family story:

 Shifa: From Prayers to Plexiglass  

How the “war on terror” ripped an Atlanta Family

  

 
How The "War on Terror" Ripped an Atlanta Family Apart by Sharmin Sadequee PDF Print E-mail

I once watched my mother pray for nine hours straight. She did so when we drove five hundred miles to visit my brother, traveling from my home in Michigan to a federal prison in Marion, Illinois.  My mother was sitting next to me in the front passenger seat. Holding a Quran in her lap, back arched forward, she was melodic. The breeze outside vibrated the gentle sound of her recitation, warming the inside of our car. 

Unfortunately, I kept asking when she was going to finish praying so I could listen to some music.  My mother—a little agitated—responded in Bangla, “We’re going to see Shifa after a long time.  You need to pray that we can see him. It’s a long drive…we need to make sure that we face no problems in our journey and that the prison gives us no trouble."

Gesturing, she said, “I don’t know how he is doing. What he eats there. I’m not there for him anymore. I can’t call him…bring him food…I can’t hug him. I am praying that he is all right.”   

When we arrived at the prison and entered the visitation room, Shifa was waiting for us. A guard closed the iron door behind us, locking my mother, my sister and me inside. In the small, dimly lit room, there were no windows, no bathrooms, no vending machines.  However, two cameras always watched us, studying our bodies and movements. 

Shifa welcomed us from behind a plexiglass barrier––no contact visits are allowed—with the biggest smile stretched across his face and the longest Muslim greeting in Arabic. He wore a khaki uniform, a white skullcap, and glasses. His hair fell down to his ears, and a full beard covered his face. He brightened up the morose room with his poised grin and graceful warmth. My mother was filled with joy to see her son. She was very anxious to talk to him, to hear his voice.  She took her seat between my sister and me and picked up the white phone sitting amid three wall phones.

“Abbu, have you had breakfast this morning? What did you have?” 

“Alhamdolillah. I had breakfast,” Shifa replied through his phone on the other side of the glass.

“Did you sleep well last night?”

Smiling, Shifa answered, “Alhamdolillah.”

“Do you need anything? Has your sister been sending you money regularly?”

“Alhamdolillah, Ammi, I am in the care of Allah Subhana wa ta’la. Nothing to worry!"

My mother continued to press him. “But how much money do you have right now?”

“Alhamdolillah, I have enough.”

“Do they give you fruits and vegetable regularly?” 

“Alhamdolillah.”

“How is the temperature in your room? Is it normal?

“Alhamdolillah.”

“Alhamdolillah” means “Praise is to God.”

My mother asked if we could get him something from the vending machine in the other room, but he said he didn't want anything.  She offered to buy him some chips, cookies or soda, but he declined again.  Then she looked at me and my sister and, raising her voice a little, said, "Why don't you get him something? Why are you sitting here?"

"He doesn't want anything," I replied.

My mother countered, "He doesn't want anything because you haven't brought him anything.”

I don't know whether being able to feed her son would have quenched the emptiness my mother felt from having lost him to prison; I don't know whether a mother seeing her son eat before her eyes fulfills her need to be there for her child. 

But whenever she visits him, whenever he calls her, and whenever she writes to him, my mother always wants to know these things from Shifa. Every time. Mundane questions to many of us, but so meaningful to a mother.

One day, when I asked her why she always asked him these same questions, she said, “I’m not there for him anymore. I want to know if he is well.”

When Shifa was growing up, he was always glued to the television, watching “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and eating nothing but pizza. Pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If there was no pizza at home, my mother had to instantly make it for him. He would watch her make it and sometimes help her prepare the dough or spread the tomato sauce or the cheese.  He loved extra cheese on his pizza. My mother and Shifa made pizza together and ate it together.

It was difficult for my mother to get my brother accustomed to desi food. If he ate desi food, it had to be lentils and rice; she had to make the lentil soup very runny for him; otherwise, he wouldn’t eat it. Now the prison walls barred my mother from being with her son, from feeding him, from preparing food with him. The walls denied her motherhood. 

In 2006, news of my brother’s kidnapping from Bangladesh, twelve days after his wedding, shocked and numbed my mother to the point that she started fasting until she got sick.

She and I were staying in New York City because our government held my brother in Brooklyn for three months before moving him to Atlanta. My mother wanted to see Shifa regularly in those three months.

We were staying with my cousin until he asked us to move out; he became concerned with the length of our stay because he was afraid to keep us in his home, so he made up a story that the FBI had visited him. My mother's heart broke that day, because it meant she could not see her son anymore.  She clutched her wrists with pain, held back her tears. Her face turned blank with helplessness, but she forced herself to smile back at my cousin.  She did not want to leave; she was living so close to her son in Brooklyn.

Yet who would let us stay when all were afraid of coming under FBI surveillance because of her, because of us, because of Shifa? Who would risk his own and his family’s safety for her? We had no choice but to leave. We eventually found another place to stay.  I tried to feed my mother, but she could not eat anything in those days. The thought that she could not be there for her son engulfed her mind and body with pain. How could she enjoy food when her son could not have the same food or even an adequate meal? It was like she was punishing herself by withholding food from her own body in her inability to help him.

Her health declined; she was aggrieved with physical illnesses and depression. The barbed wire and the prison walls took over her health. She has since spent a lot of money each year to visit my brother in order to maintain emotional, social, and familial relationships, but she is still forced to endure the painful process of separation. She is still not allowed to touch or kiss her beloved son.

When Shifa’s trial began in Atlanta in the summer of 2009, my mother did not understand what was going on, for she doesn’t understand English very well. She carried rosary beads and the Quran each day to the courtroom to pray for him. I had to explain to her what the prosecutors were saying: about the PATRIOT Act, about how my brother, her son, was charged with an ambiguous crime called “providing material support to terrorism.” I explained to her what the U.S. prosecutor, in the opening statement of the trial, said about what “crimes” Shifa had supposedly committed (or not committed):

“You will hear no evidence in this trial that the defendant had a gun, that he was building a bomb, that he had joined a particular terrorist organization, because that's not what the charge is. It would be a very different landscape in United States District Court if that's what the allegation was, but it's not…I want to repeat: defendant is not charged with committing any terrorist act, no bomb throwing, no shooting, no dead bodies…It's not a case about the defendant making bombs or that's not the charge...” (1) 

I also told her that her son’s only “crime” was sitting in front of a computer translating and publishing Arabic, Islamic, and political literature for a publication on a website, sharing a lot of “LOLs” with his online acquaintances, working on a website, and posting photos and videos of his tourist trips for those same buddies. 

I explained to her how the government prosecutors could not point to one sentence in his trial that demonstrated that Shifa was even thinking of doing anything criminal. There was not one sentence about such activity, I told her.

She asked, “Not one sentence?”

“No,” I replied. “Not one sentence.” 

I could see how her heart dropped. 

She wanted to cry that day, but she pushed it all in, hardening her heart at the injustice done to her, to her little son. Another day, my mother was there with my brother’s lawyers when they told us that the government prosecutors did not believe my brother was capable of violence or of harming anyone at all––and so my mother could not understand why her son was punished with over 1,300 days in solitary confinement before his trial even began. And she didn’t understand why the evidence of her son’s kidnapping from Bangladesh and illegal rendition to the U.S. by the FBI was not explained to the jury.

The federal judge prohibited Shifa, who represented himself at trial, from introducing this evidence.

Now my mother has learned that a 2009 report by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed that there is a good chance that government prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence––which could prove a defendant's innocence––from all post-9/11 “terrorism” cases involving Muslims. This could prove the innocence of her son, and young men like her son, but our country is not looking into this issue. 

To pay for my brother’s lawyers, my mother put her home up for sale, as well as her gold; she and my father cashed in the insurance policy they were saving for my brother's education; she traveled across the country and stood before mosque after mosque to raise funds for Shifa’s legal defense.

Nothing helped. No defense lawyer could help her. No one could help return her heart and soul, her son. No one could release the love of her life snatched from her womb. No one could free him. No one.

My brother, Ehsanul Shifa Sadequee, who spoke out against the U.S. violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, translated literature, and worked on a publication website, was sentenced to seventeen years in aCommunication Management Unit. My mother wonders how her precious son can be so far away from her, separated from her by barbed wire fences and iron walls for joining no terrorist organization, for plotting and committing no terrorist acts. He is her little son put behind bars––for what reason?

 And in 2009, my mother and I watched on television as––within twenty-four hours of my brother's conviction––the governor of Georgia appointed the U.S. prosecutor who supervised Shifa’s case to the Georgia Supreme Court.

This story is a brief glimpse of the lived experiences of what Muslim families targeted by the U.S. government under the domestic “war on terror” suffer. There are well over 500 cases like my brother’s, whereby Muslim American youth and adults have been accused of “terrorism-related” charges. Stories and images of some of those families from across the country are portrayed in Shattering Stigma, Crossing Boundaries. The longer story of Shifa Sadequee can be found in From Prayers to Plexiglass.

  1.  Trial transcript, page 44, lines 22–25; page 45, line 1; page 57, lines 19–21; page 62, lines 4–5)
            Published in AtlantaMuslim.com http://www.atlantamuslim.com/2015/mar/28/how-the-war-on-terror-ripped-an-atlanta-family-apart/

 

 

 

 
TAKE ACTION: Show Your Love and Justice for Shifa! PDF Print E-mail

 April 17 will mark the 7 year anniversary of unjust imprisonment of Shifa Sadequee.  Shifa is currently serving his 17-year sentence in a “secret” US political prison (Terre Haute, IN) for crimes he did not commit.  In April 2006, the FBI commanded the Bangladeshi military to kidnap Shifa 12 days after his wedding and held him captive in an undisclosed location.  He went missing in action for days and brought back to New York City in a “secret” CIA rendition aircraft.  

 A US citizen by birth, Shifa was tortured in pre-trial solitary confinement for over 1,300 days and subjected to prison violence in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.  The US targeted Shifa for translating and publishing ancient Arabic-Islamic scholarly writings, working on a website and speaking out against American violence abroad. He was targeted for political speech and activism.  

In their attempt to intimidate Shifa, the FBI-US Government led an unconstitutional terror campaign against his family and community through its surveillance tools, fear tactics and corporate media to isolate and silence them from the world.  The government’s terror agencies, including the US Secret Services, harassed the family in an attempt to mute and scare them away from sharing their truth with the world. 

In his self-representation at his trial in 2009, Shifa challenged the imperial-government’s narrative of his case and the Atlanta Federal Court and exposed the fabricated charges and mechanisms of the US-empire building projects of the War on Terror against Muslims and the global community.  

The US continues to bar Shifa’s speech and interactions with his family and the outside world in its "control unit" for political prisoners known as the “Communication Management Unit” in Terre Haute, Indiana.  However, Shifa’s family continues to fight for him and challenge the narrative of the state and the injustices of its terror campaigns on communities of color and immigrants.

 

We remember Shifa for his courage, resiliency and speaking truth to power!  

 

We remember him for choosing to speak up and giving voice to many others whose voice have been erased and wrongfully taken away and silenced by the Imperial US-Legal System.

 

We remember him for giving us the courage to break the silence and strength for collective resiliency to strive toward transforming state and community violence.

 

 Stand in solidarity with Shifa’s family and take a moment to write to Shifa or send him a post card for giving us the courage to speak out against fear and oppression.

 

Shifa is missed and loved by his family and community.   

 

Show your love and justice!

 

Write to Shifa!

 

Ehsanul Sadequee
#1524-0006
FCI TERRE HAUTE
FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION
P.O. BOX 33
TERRE HAUTE, IN 47808

 
Shifa, from Prayers to Plexiglass by Sharmin Sadequee PDF Print E-mail

Image (9)

My family’s connection with my brother dates back to the time when my parents, grandmother, two siblings and I were stationed among the masses of people dressed in two-piece seamless white linen. We were meditating in the Arabian desert of Arafat under the scorching heat at the holy pilgrimage in 1985. We joined thousands of pilgrims sweltering in the blazing sand under white tents thirsty for cool breeze but all raised their hands up in prayers. My parents wanted a child, and they prayed that day for a son.  Melting in supplication with the worshippers, we implored God to bestow upon us a little brother. We were all ecstatic when my little brother was born in Northern Virginia in 1986.

He became the jewel of our family because he was the manifestation of our prayers, my mother’s prayers, grandmother’s prayers, delivered to my family, humbling my parents to their relationship as human beings to the sacred universe.

Shifa’s wellbeing behind bars is always confining our minds, especially my parents as they are unable to be there for him. This is a punishment for us that began with his illegal kidnapping and incarceration. The horrid Bureau of Prison in Atlanta made us visit him through a video monitor and headphones when he was in solitary confinement for over three years before his trial had even begun. When we were allowed contact visits once or twice a year for holidays after many requests, the prison forced us to see him in orange jump-suit shackled with chains in his feet and hands. The iron manacles did not allow him to open a soda can or eat anything we bought him from the vending machine.

shifa sanfran

As a teenager Shifa was an avid reader delving into books of poetry, religion and spirituality, and history.  He attended a Muslim high school in Canada, taking classes in religious and classical Arabic studies. Soon after, in 2001, he returned to Bangladesh to live with my parents and finish high school. He fell ill from environmental pollution in Dhaka so my parents decided to keep him at home where they home-schooled him. When he returned to the US in 2004, Shifa was active in social justice activism and the anti-war movement. He worked with our sister Sonali in a women’s rights organization to end violence against women and children. Community members in Atlanta also knew him for his gentleness and warmth.  He volunteered in conferences about ending violence and sexism sponsored by Atlanta men’s organization.  My brother also volunteered with organizations like WAND—a national organization whose mission is to empower women to act politically,reduce militarism and violence and redirect excessive military spending towards unmet human and environmental needs.

A year before Shifa was arrested, law-enforcement agents harassed my immediate and extended families and friends in US, Canada and Bangladesh. In late December 2005, ICE agents marched into our Roswell home in Georgia, flaunting their guns at my mother and sister-in-law to find out whether we had any guns or weapons in our home.  The women became confused and terrified unable to understand their reasons for such behavior and questions. My mother held a legally obtained permanent residency in the US at the time.  But, the agents arrested my mother that day for violating some immigration regulations and placed her in removal proceedings.  Not knowing what would happen with her deportation case, we were living with uncertainty and feared she might be deported and not allowed to see her son again.  The government later withdrew her deportation case in 2011, two years after my brother’s trial ended.

However, the most shocking and numbing moment for my family was when my brother went missing.  Shifa went to Bangladesh in the summer of 2005 to get married.  On his way at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, FBI agents interrogated him but let go.  In April 17, 2006, he was kidnapped and went missing for days.  We later learned that the FBI picked him up and brought him to Brooklyn, NY, aboard a “secret” CIA rendition aircraft through Alaska. He was stripped off his clothes and wrapped in a plastic-like material on the flight.

At a press conference in Bangladesh, my father requested the help of journalists and the public in finding his son. The Bangladesh government at the time kept silent. In New York, Shifa was charged with making a “false statement” to the FBI but the case was later dropped. In August 2006 the US government transferred Shifa to Atlanta on “terrorism” related charges. No government agencies communicated about his arrest to my father and his wife in Bangladesh or to my family in Atlanta. The case stemmed from “evidence” from 2004 and 2005 when Shifa was 18 and 19.  Shifa was not permitted to see the evidence against him until a few months of before his trial. The “secret” evidence against Shifa included online chats between teenagers and religious literature that he had translated from ancient Arabic texts to English for Tibyan Publication.

While Shifa was awaiting trial, he was staying in a solitary confinement cell that was approximately 8 feet by 12 feet for over three years. He was in that cell for at least 23 hours per day. Many days he remained in the cell for 24 hours. He could not have normal pens or pencils. He could not make phone calls to his family, except on rare occasions. He had never been charged with even a minor offence, yet he had served three years in the most onerous prison conditions that this country had to offer. During this time, an inmate assaulted and attacked him, which left my brother traumatized and his health markedly deteriorated.

The official charges against Shifa included “supporting” a foreign terrorist organization (Laskar-e-taiba, LET) in Pakistan by sharing videos of tourist sites in Washington, DC with his online friends. However, LET was not listed and designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department at the time Shifa was apprehended but added to the list two weeks after his arrest.  There were no acts of “terrorism” charges against Shifa. There were no “plotting” of terrorist activities charges against him.

Shifa is one of the first young Muslim men to represent himself at his own trial in the federal court.  He addressed the court throughout his four year legal proceeding and challenged the court directly.  The prosecution took advantage of Shifa’s lack of knowledge of the law, and submitted evidence that had no connection to him at all. The majority of government witnesses were FBI agents who did not participate in the online chats between teenagers but were allowed to present and “interpret” evidence. No actual participants from the chats were brought to testify.  Jurors prejudicial towards Islam and Muslims were chosen for the trial with some jurors, according to media reports as well, caught sleeping as evidence was being presented.

Shifa was sentenced to 17 years. The results of the devastating and oppressive events that this violent legal ordeal communicates to us are that the court presiding over my brother’s case had its own imagination of what is a Muslim and who belongs to the Muslim faith. In sentencing him, the court pronounced itself an “expert” of Muslim religion. It had its own definition of “Muslim” and felt the need to judge religious expression and practice of my brother and declare and differentiate between “true” and “good” Muslim from a “bad” Muslim.

I remember when we first went to visit my brother in the Communication Management Unit-CMU in Marion, IL.  Driving to this prison make us feel as if we are approaching a serene and colorful quaint terrain. We pass by still lakes, watching people fishing quietly in the water. Wild birds with open wings are soaring in the velvet blue sky. We are in the middle of a resting area for migratory birds and a home for hundreds of plants and animals. It makes me feel that this prison must be more beautiful and humane than the horrendous ones in other places. Passing through the abandoned checkpoint and crossing over the intersection of Justice and Prison Road, the massive ghoulish compound emerges with its two huge towers, looming over the calm green space. The thorny prison fences threaten the wandering birds. Visitors are instantly under the microscope of guards from the shadowy towers, in addition to surveillance cameras all over the facility. Upon viewing the scenic landscape, one wouldn’t know that industrial and manufacturing activities take place on the refuge near the prison. During WW II, our government used this national safe haven to make explosives and even today still produces “military ordinance production.” The ominous walls of Marion CMU hide in the middle of a national wild life sanctuary in Southern Illinois.

This prison is like a portal to some unknown land. We have to follow the ritual of security check and cross many iron borders before we can see my brother. Showing our identification cards, filling out forms, taking off our shoes and jackets, and walking through the metal detectors are routine procedures that we have to endure. We always worry whether our bodies will set off an alarm. We are always thrilled when we pass the security test but inhibit our emotions, because visitation regulations can change arbitrarily and without prior notice. We have to restrain our emotions and behave politely. It’s like an exercise in humility but it’s forced on us, constraining us from being our real selves. Then they brand our wrists with an invisible ink and we are processed by a blue laser beam. It makes us feel as if we have been turned into cattle–we have somehow become the property of the prison, a prisoner.

A supervisor always escorts us, like the guards escort inmates, when we enter the passage with the white hall lined with panel windows as guards watch our every move. Going through one steel door after another, we approach an interior that gets darker and darker when we arrive at the general population room where convicted murderers, drug dealers, and other offenders are allowed to visit their families with physical contact.  A booth where guards watch us on television screens is stationed here in this room, but we don’t visit my brother here. We have to cross another heavy door. Our visit and conversations with my brother occur over phones, while prison officials watch us on a video and document our speech and behavior. Federal agents simultaneously monitor us and eavesdrop on our conversations remotely from Washington, DC.

We enter the visitation room through the steel gate where the pernicious glass-wall separates us from my brother. As we walk into the room, the guard in blue uniform closes the menacing iron door and locks us in. This room is eerie, dingy, and small. There are no windows or doors to see or go outside. There are no bathrooms here. There are no vending machines to buy water or soda. However, two cameras always watch us— study our bodies and movements. It feels like the dark walls are closing in, and there is no way out.  Shifa always waits on the other side of the Plexiglas. He welcomes us—me, my mother, and my sister who flew in from Atlanta—with the biggest smile stretched across his cheeks and the longest Muslim greeting in Arabic. His smiles chase the darkness away. His hair is falling down to his ears and a full bushy beard covering his face. He is in khaki uniform, wearing a white skull cap and glasses. My brother brightens up the morose room with his poised grin and graceful warmth. We are very thrilled to see him, but especially my mother. She is filled with joy to see her son and very anxious to talk to him, to hear his voice. She takes her seat between my sister and me, picks up the new white phone placed between three broken, useless black wall phones.

The CMU prison guards watch and document every move, word, and action of my brother and all inmates around the clock. Unlike other prisons where the Warden is in charge of daily operations, CMUs are under the Director of Federal Bureau of Prison in Washington, DC. They are “secret” prisons in our beautiful mid-western prairies of Indiana and Illinois, established during the second term of George W.  Bush. They are “self-contained general population” units used to punish, monitor inmates, and restrict their spiritual and religious life twenty four hours a day.  My brother’s emails, phone calls, personal letters, and family visitations are all monitored. His interaction and all communications of other inmates with the outside world are limited and restricted. Family members cannot embrace their loved ones inside these prisons. These units have been cleverly labeled by the government as “general population” however, inmates in these sections do not actually have the same privileges as those inmates in the regular general population. Supposedly a see-through wall barring family members from hugging each other can help protect American citizens and national security. It is very puzzling to me how banning my mother and other families of prisoners from natural human contact and fulfilling the need for familial closeness and physical human connection with our loved-ones can protect our nation. Unless of course, the intention isn’t to protect national security but use that language to fashion something else.

The government is not only punishing my brother and our family; they are also punishing all citizens and extracting money from the public. A2010 Congressional Report on CMUs indicated that our government spent some $14 million in tax dollars of American citizens to ensure that these few inmates in CMUs and their families are punished and do not have familial communication or physical contact with their loved ones. How is it possible that so many Americans revolted at the news of Guantanamo Bay but continue to sponsor and pay for these CMU internment camps known as the “Guantanamo North” that constitutes the American prison-industrial complex? The level of security and inhumane restrictions on the interactions at these prisons seem absurd considering how the Muslim prisoners in these units committed no acts of violence. I wonder whether the only purpose for housing peaceful Muslims in CMUs is to create an image to make the world believe that “terrorists” exist, when these few men have not committed such acts as proven by courts. Why are so many tax dollars spent to make sure Muslim women and children suffer and can never hug their loved-ones, kiss their forehead, when many Americans are suffering from hunger and homelessness every day.

Published in:  Law at the Margins http://lawatthemargins.com/perspectives-shifa-from-prayers-to-plexiglass/

 
Solidarity with CMU-Marion Prison Hunger Strikers PDF Print E-mail

 Solidarity with Marion-CMU Prison Hunger Strikers


In April 2012, a group of Muslim American political prisoners in the Communication Management Unit (CMU) at Marion, IL were on hunger strike.  Seeing the atrocious, inhumane mistreatment of Muslim prisoners, the non-Muslim inmates also went on hunger strike in solidarity. The Warden tried to silence Muslim prisoners by punishing them in solitary confinement and barring their communication. 


Since September 2011 the new Warden and her staff have been horribly abusing and violating Muslim inmates increasingly-- harassing during individual and congregational prayer times, revoking religiously prescribed meal, banning spiritual educational programs, torturing with lights turned on in the cells 24/7, and terminating communication with the outside world-- and denying their constitutionally granted human rights.


The demands of Muslim political prisoners include:

religiously prescribed meal

individual and congregational prayers

religious and spiritual classes and educational programs

contacts with family and friends.  


The CMU-Marion political prisoners' demands resonate strongly with what Justice for Shifa Support Committee believes are part of our human rights to freedom of religion and granting these rights to prisoners is a way to make our communities free of religious bigotry and racial oppression and violence.


Although Shifa has been removed from Marion-CMU to Terre Haute-CMU, Indiana, Justice for Shifa Support Committee stands in solidarity with the Muslim political prisoners who have been on hunger strike in the Communication Management Unit (CMU) at Marion, IL.  Faith-based segregated imprisonment and isolation at the CMU-Marion egregiously targets, discriminates, silences and abuses a minority religious group collectively.  At its core it also represses a group for practicing their faith and demanding their constitutionally granted rights to religious freedom. We see clear lines connecting the CMU-Marion struggle to the California hunger striker's struggle-- demanding their constitutional and human rights-- and preceding decades of prisoner-led demands to their rights throughout the prison system.  


We believe the US Government established these two 'secret' units, CMUs in Illinois and Indiana, inside the Federal Prison System to harass and prevent Muslim prisoners from practicing their faith and promoting racial and religious intolerance. We believe the US is engaged in violent 'missionizing projects' using the CMUs and the prison system to coercively assimilate Muslims to abandon their faith and spiritual life-- by targeting and banning their basic spiritual and religious practices-- in violation of the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 


We encourage people everywhere to stand in solidarity with the CMU-Marion political prisoner hunger strikers and forge connections across the prison walls meant to disappear so many of our loved ones, friends and neighbors.  


Justice for Shifa Support Committee demands an investigation into the incidences at CMU-Marion, removal of the abusive Warden, and a stop to all violence of missionizing tactics of the government under the guise of fighting the War on Terror.

 

 

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Stand in Solidarity with CMU-Marion Political Prisoners and Send the Following Letter to the Warden and the Following Officials.

 

 

 

Date

 

Wendy J. Roal, Warden

4500 Prison Rd

Marion, IL 62959

 

Dear Warden Roel,

 

            I am writing to express my deep concern over the pattern of harassment and mistreatment of Muslim inmates while in your custody in the Communication Management Unit (CMU) at USP-Marion. 

 

            According to reports your administration has recently placed many Muslims in solitary confinement without explanation. In addition, their right to freely practice the Muslim faith has been severely impaired on multiple occasions, forcing them to go on a hunger strike. Numerous CMU inmates from your facility have been complaining about illegal activities that your administration and staff are engaging in to deny Muslim religious and spiritual services under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and BOP regulations as well as the First Amendment.

 

            These abuses have worsened since your administration began in September 2011. The reports allege either you personally or your staff are engaging in the following pattern of misconduct and illegal behavior:

 

            1) Walking in on Muslims in the Chapel during Friday religious services and interrupting service while the Muslim preacher delivers the sermon.

            2) Cancelling several religious and spiritual classes that were approved by the Bureau of Prison staff and taught for several months before your arrival.

            3) Refusing to provide religiously prescribed Muslim meals, Halal meals and food items which were approved by the Chaplain and Trust Fund Supervisor at the BOP.

            4) Barring Muslim inmates from observing religious practices and holidays

            5) Causing health problems by keeping lights on in the cells 24/7

            6) Harassing Muslim inmates during their individual and congregational prayers

            7) Denying Muslims morning prayer

            8) Banning congregational Muslim prayer

            9) Stopping all educational and rehabilitative programs for Muslims

            10) Prohibiting communication with the outside world

 

            The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) protects the religious rights of federal inmates. It appears that your facility has been involved in serious discrimination against Muslim inmates. I request that the following actions be taken immediately.       

 

  •        Provide information on protocol and procedures regarding maintenance of prisoner safety, adherence to prisoner requests regarding communication with family members;                           
  •       Provide information about measures that have been taken to ensure CMU Muslim inmates are able to observe and practice their faith freely;
  •      Ensure that Muslim inmates constitutionally protected right to freely practice their religion is not being violated while they are in your facility;                                             
  •      Provide all Muslim inmates with a formal written apology
  •      Ensure Muslim inmates will not be retaliated against as a result of this complaint;
  •      Compensate all Muslim inmates for the emotional distress they may have suffered as a result of the extreme illegal discrimination;
  •      Provide information about the type of cultural and religious sensitivity training is conducted for corrections personnel;

            I look forward to a positive and swift resolution to this matter. Issues of such severe violations of civil and religious rights are of grave concern to me as an American citizen. I will continue to monitor this situation very closely and take any appropriate action that it deems necessary, including seeking further public attention for this case.

 

            I appreciate you taking prompt action to remedy these serious issues inside CMU-Marion.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Cc:

 

Thomas E. Perez

Assistant Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

Civil Rights Division

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Office of the Assistant Attorney General

Washington, DC 20530

 

Michael E. Horowitz

Inspector General

US Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20530                                                                                  

 

Director Charles E. Samuels, Jr.

U.S. Department of Justice

Federal Bureau of Prisons

320 First Street, NW

Washington, DC 20534                                                                                                                         

 

Patrick Leahy

United States Senate

Committee on the Judiciary

224 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

 

Manfred Nowak

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Palais Wilson

52 Rue Des Paquis

CH - 201 Geneva, Switzerland

 

Congressman John Conyers

United States House of Representative

2426 Rayburn H.O.B

Washington, DC 20515

 

Attorney Alan Mills

Uptown People's Law Center

4413 N. Sheridan

Chicago, IL 60640

 

 

 
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