Recently released court documents show that the strict restrictions placed on convicted shoe-bomber Richard Reid have been eased as his prison sentence has worn on, stoking fears that prisoners at Guantanamo will receive the same benefits if imprisoned inside the United States, according to Reuters.
Reid is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, for trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001. He was recently moved from a special isolation wing of the prison to one that allows him more contact with prisoners as well as less supervision of his communications. Reid won his recent ease in restrictions after filing a civil lawsuit against the prison, the Department of Justice, and the Bureau of Prisons for denying him his First Amendment rights and by going on a hunger strike.
Critics of the Obama administration's decision to try and imprison Guantanamo Bay detainees, known as enemy combatants, on U.S. soil say this tendency to loosen restrictions over time could lead to enemy combatants recruiting and radicalizing other inmates as well as communicating with other jihadists in the outside world.
"The system will default toward allowing more visitation, access and communication," Stewart Baker, who served as general counsel at the National Security Agency under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, told Reuters.
According to Reuters, Reid won a significant victory
For the first 6 1/2 years of his sentence, Reid was confined 23 hours a day in Supermax to a 75.5-square-foot (7-square meter) cell and had virtually no contact with the outside world beyond his lawyers and immediate family members.
He petitioned a federal court in Denver and earlier this year went on a hunger strike asserting he was being denied his rights to practice his Sunni Muslim faith, or to learn Arabic, order books and magazines or watch television news.
That hunger strike apparently ended and he was moved into the general population wing, where his visits and mail are no longer routinely monitored by the FBI, Supermax prison official Mark Collins said in court papers last month.
The move came after an annual Justice Department review found he has not been seeking to commit violence. Now he can talk with other inmates without monitoring, order books and magazines with prison approval, receive non-family visits and speak with the media.
Baker told Reuters that Reid's victory over prison officials could prove a propaganda victory for al Qaeda.
"The idea that from the bowels of the worst the American justice system can do, this person is still breathing defiance and expressing joy at every casualty in Afghanistan and the like, has a profound propaganda value for al Qaeda, and (we) are doing ourselves grave harm if we allow that," he told Reuters.
But the former head of the Justice Department's National Security Division Kenneth Wainstein told Reuters that critics are engaging in a false dilemma.
"It is too simplistic to predict either that all detainees will be forever locked down incommunicado or alternatively that they will all be completely free to communicate with other terrorists and radicalize fellow inmates," he said.
Wainstein said that al Qaeda footsoldiers like Reid aren't as dangerous as other terrorists already incarcerated in the United States, such as the "Blind Sheik" Omar Abdel-Rahman, who helped plot the 1993 World Trade Center attack.
The decision to ease restrictions on detainees must be based on a risk-based analysis, he said.
♦ Photo of Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, by the Bureau of Prisons/WikiMediaCommons