Shaikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the 60-year-old blind teacher, sits in his stinking cell, in Springfield, Missouri, isolated but not broken. Suffering from diabetes and heart disease, he has been denied numerous fundamental rights. There are serious concerns about his well-being, and indeed, about his physical survival.
A lone Arabic-speaking prisoner in the federal facility has been moved out. Since Shaikh Omar does not speak or understand English, he cannot communicate with anyone now. Similarly, this denies him access to library facilities, a fundamental right permitted under US law to every prisoner, to consult any books pertaining to his case or the conditions of his incarceration.
He is not allowed visitors because the prison authorities insist on humiliating him by putting him through horrible strip-searches which are against the religious ethics of Muslims. Even his friends and the media have been denied access.
A special administrative procedure, called 28-CFR-section 501.3, was signed into law by attorney general Janet Reno last year. Drafted by Kathy Hawk, director of the Bureau of Prisons, this law specifically targets Shaikh Omar. Hawk in fact herself admitted as much in an unguarded moment. She has also admitted that this has not been applied to any other prisoner in the US. Under this new draconian law, Shaikh Omar is denied his fundamental rights guaranteed by the US constitution.
Shaikh Omar’s lawyers are working on his appeal, strengthened by last month’s justice department report about FBI laboratories fabricating scientific evidence to implicate defendants in criminal cases. The report by the department’s inspector general Michael R Bromwich, and carried by the New York Times on April 16 made reference to the FBI’s explosives laboratory examiner, David R Williams. He ‘worked backwards’ to script the testimony to fit the conclusion that he needed to draw, according to the Times story.
Williams testified at the trial that the bomb that blew up the trade centre was a 1200-pound urea nitrate. Yet no trace of the bomb residue had been found. The urea nitrate bomb ‘evidence’ was needed because the manuals recovered from one of the defendants in the case had reference to such a bomb. Once this manufactured testimony was presented to the jury, a conviction was secured.
Bromwich has unearthed other dirty tricks of the FBI crime labs. These expose a vast array of other evidence tailored by the FBI to secure conviction even when there was not sufficient evidence. It throws into question the convictions of tens of people in the US.
It is ironic that while Shaikh Omar has been denied his fundamental rights, a number of hardened criminals, some have even vowed to overthrow the United States government such as the Peurto Ricans, are allowed to maintain contacts with their group members outside the prison. Even gang members are not denied these basic rights but Shaikh Omar must not be given these.
His ‘crime’ is that he has openly declared his plans to work towards the overthrow the Mubarak regime. He considers that regime oppressive, tyrannical and not representative of the Egyptian people. True, it is a US client regime but Shaikh Omar is not responsible for American idiosyncracies. US officials never tire of proclaiming their adherence to human rights, democracy and other such sound bites. Even the State department annual report regularly mentions human rights abuses in Egypt under Mubarak.
In the case of Egypt, these are all dispensed with. The 65 million people of Egypt have no rights, or at least not the kind that the US cares about. It is at this level that Shaikh Omar comes into conflict with US policy for which he is being punished.
Muslimedia - May 16-31, 1997