It’s prison, not house arrest
You may remember John Walker Lindh, who earned the nickname “American Taliban” after going to Afghanistan to fight with the group that gave shelter to al-Qaeda, the terrorists who executed the Sept. 11 attacks.
Lindh is in the news again, this time because of a federal court motion made on his behalf. The motion, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, seeks a ruling that a policy at the prison in Terre Haute, Ind., is illegal because it restricts group prayer.
Lindh, who is serving a 20-year sentence for aiding the Taliban, claims that his Muslim religion requires him to pray five times a day, preferably in a group. He further claims that praying alone in his prison cell is inappropriate because Islam requires a clean place for prayer, but he is forced to kneel too close to his toilet.
A similar complaint in a lawsuit filed by another group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, claims that restrictions at the Terre Haute prison and another federal institution in Marion, Ill., violate the religious and civil rights of inmates.
Almost comically, the lawsuit claims that the two prisons’ Communications Management Unit place excessively harsh restrictions on inmates’ contact with the outside world, including with their families, without offering any reason for it. The government responded in that lawsuit that CMU rules allow prisoners to leave their cells to watch TV or play basketball, but not to have physical contact with visiting relatives. It maintains that such rules are legal.
It’s easy to roll your eyes when you hear about the ACLU filing a court case on behalf of someone like Lindh, who could have faced the death penalty for treason; or when some other group defends the rights of inmates. But one thing that sets America part from most other countries is the humane way it treats its prisoners, starting with the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and continuing with decades of court rulings that have expanded both the rights of inmates and the responsibilities of governments who put them behind bars.
Advocates for prisoners have a role to play in the debate over proper incarceration guidelines. However, their clients are in federal penitentiaries because they committed serious crimes, and in these cases the complaints of unfair treatment simply don’t hold up.
To argue that group prayer is required for members of any religion; or that prisoners must be allowed to touch their family members during visits, is to argue that there should be virtually no restrictions on inmates. It is arguing that a prison should be little more than a home confinement program, in which inmates wear an ankle brace to monitor their movements and see anybody they like.
It takes a special talent to serve time in prison for any length of time. Most defendants are given one or two shots at probation and are sent behind bars only when they’ve shown a repeated willingness to break the law.
It’s a shame that devout inmates like Lindh are prevented from praying in a group. Perhaps they should have thought about the loss of such privileges before they acted.
Last Updated (Tuesday, 07 September 2010 21:52)