Watchdog Investigates Civil Rights Complaints in Federal Prisons, Most from Muslims

By Joseph Straw

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (IG) opened or referred investigations into seven alleged civil rights violations in federal prisons during the first half of the year, six of them involving Muslim inmates, according to a summary report.

In one case a Muslim inmate alleges that Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) personnel said they hated him because he is Muslim, ridiculed his religious articles, and directed other inmates to attack him. The inmate was denied medical care after the attack, and was threatened by BOP staff in an effort to make him withdraw his complaint, he claims.

In another, a prisoner’s wife alleges that BOP personnel assaulted him, segregated him in a special housing unit, and denied him access to religious services. BOP told the inmate’s wife that the actions resulted from the prisoner’s assault of an agency employee, according to the report.

Two more of the cases were referred to BOP for internal investigation; the remaining three were closed after BOP determined the allegations were unsubstantiated, according to the report

The twice-yearly report to Congress falls under a mandate in 2001’s USA PATRIOT Act that the IG investigate allegations of civil rights violations by DOJ personnel.

From January through June the IG fielded 600 civil rights complaints, according to the report. Of those, 428 either fell outside the IG’s jurisdiction or didn’t merit investigation. Another 165 raised management issues—such as general prison conditions or FBI decisions on whether to investigate complaints—as opposed to allegations of direct civil rights violations, according to the report.

The report also summarized two well-publicized IG investigations that wrapped up earlier this year, and updated a third ongoing matter.

In May, the IG reported on an investigation of the FBI’s processes for nominations to and removals from the national terrorist watch list, finding that the FBI failed to follow standard procedures agency-wide, and did not maintain internal process controls.

Then last month the IG issued a scathing report summarizing its investigation into the Bush administration’s legal oversight of the National Security Agency’s warrantless domestic wiretapping program. The IG found that only one attorney from DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel, then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, was privy to the program for its first year and a half.

Third, the IG is following up on an investigation completed in 2007 into the FBI’s use of national security letters and exigent letters, internal documents that have been used to obtain documents like personal telephone records without court orders, according to the report.


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