"Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid On Hunger Strike, Gov't. to End SAMS

Shoe Bomber Richard Reid, serving a life sentence at Supermax in Florence, Colorado for intending to blow up an American Airlines commercial flight in December, 2001 by lighting a match to put to an explosive in his shoe, has been on a hunger strike for months and is being force-fed. He is too ill to attend depositions in his civil lawsuit against BOP officials and the Attorney General. His lawsuit alleges that his First Amendment rights are being violated by conditions at the prison and, in particular, SAMS, which limit his contact with the outside world, ability to attend group prayer and take religious correspondence classes.

The Court recently denied the Government's motion to partially dismiss his complaint. The report of the Magistrate Judge is here (pdf.) The District Court Judge's order accepting the Magistrate's report is here (pdf). The Government's pleading describing the hunger strike is here. (pdf) From the Magistrate Judge's order finding Reid's complaint was sufficient to survive dismissal on First Amendment grounds: [More...]

SAMs are special restrictions that may be imposed where determined to be “reasonably necessary to protect persons against the risk of death or serious bodily injury.” 28 C.F.R. § 501.3(a) (2008). SAMs may include housing the inmate in administrative detention and/or limiting certain privileges, including, but not limited to, correspondence, visiting, interviews with representatives of the news media, and use of the telephone, as is reasonably necessary to protect persons against the risk of acts of violence or terrorism. Id. SAMs can be imposed initially for only one year, but may be extended upon a sufficient showing of danger. § 501.3©.

Plaintiff states SAMs restrictions were imposed upon his arrival at ADX in February 2003, and they have been renewed on a yearly basis. (Compl. at 3.) Plaintiff asserts he has been denied access to religious services and materials, has been limited in his access to an imam, has been denied access to educational and recreational services, and has been prevented from contacting the media. (Id. at 3–4.) Plaintiff states he has been prevented, since 2006 from writing to anyone other than immediate family and two of his aunts, the British Consulate, and U.S. Government agencies. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff also asserts he has been kept in harsher conditions than other inmates housed at ADX. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief. (Id. at 9.)

The test for determining a prisoner's rights:

It is long established that “[i]nmates . . . retain protections afforded by the First Amendment, including its directive that no law shall prohibit the free exercise of religion.” O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987). An inmate’s exercise of constitutional rights is necessarily limited, however, “both from the fact of incarceration and from valid penological objectives—including deterrence of crime, rehabilitation of prisoners, and institutional security....

Because the religious rights of prisoners must be balanced against the interests inherent in prison administration, free exercise claims of prisoners are “judged under a ‘reasonableness’ test less restrictive than that ordinarily applied to alleged infringements of fundamental constitutional rights.” O’Lone, 482 U.S. at 349. Under this reasonableness test, “‘when a prison regulation impinges on inmates constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.’”

The Court then writes:

Plaintiff’s complaint clearly states he is a practicing Sunni Muslim. (Compl. at 5.) The court cannot make an assessment of the sincerity of Plaintiff’s beliefs at this early stage. “The inquiry into the sincerity of a free-exercise plaintiff’s religious beliefs is almost exclusively a credibility assessment, . . . and therefore the issue of sincerity can rarely be determined on summary judgment,” let alone a motion to dismiss.


Defendants do not dispute that Plaintiff’s allegations regarding individual or group prayer are related to a sincerely-held religious belief. However, they do assert that “Plaintiff’s other miscellaneous allegations in support of his free exercise claim—concerning his inability to access unidentified correspondence courses, magazines and catalogs—do not show a substantial burden on a sincerely held religious belief . . .”

And then, the ruling for Reid:

Here, Plaintiff’s complaint clearly states he is being prevented from sufficiently studying the tenets of his religion by being prevented from taking part in correspondence courses, and by being denied access to religious materials and religious magazines. (Compl. at 5 [emphasis added].)

Although Plaintiff has not identified specific correspondence courses, religious materials, or religious magazines to which he has been denied access, he has stated they are related to the tenets of his religion. As in Kay, this court finds Plaintiff is not required to show that the items he claims he is prevented from obtaining are necessary to the practice of his religion. Accordingly, this court finds Plaintiff has alleged sufficient factual information that the denial of the materials has substantially burdened his sincerely-held religious beliefs. Therefore, the court proceeds to the question of whether there are legitimate penological interests that justify the impinging conduct.

The Government, says the Court, admits there is a ban on congregrate prayer at Supermax:

Defendants further assert that Plaintiff’s group prayer request is impracticable if “one considers the ‘group’ of fellow ADX inmates with whom Plaintiff could be allowed to pray during Jumah,” including co-conspirators in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. (Mot. to Dismiss at 7–8.) Defendants recite the history of one of these fellow inmates who “continued to assist his co-conspirators in their efforts to destroy the World Trade Center” during the period of time in which he was incarcerated...

The Court finds:

While the defendants may be able to show at a later time that there are legitimate penological interests that justify the complete ban on group prayer at the ADX, absent a more developed record, the court is unable to complete the four-factor balancing analysis set forth by the Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley. For this reason, Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s freedom to congregate claim is properly denied.

Moving on to the correspondence courses, the Court rules:

Defendants have failed to address whether there are legitimate penological interests that justify Defendants’ refusal to allow Plaintiff access to correspondence courses, religious materials, and religious magazines. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for the court to dismiss the claim related to this allegation at this time.

A hearing was set for June 12, however, yesterday, the Government filed this pleading (pdf), stating that Reid's SAMS would end next week and it would not seek to renew them. (Reid has been under SAMS since his arrival at Supermax in 2003. They are good for a one year period and renewable. )

Undersigned counsel is authorized to represent that she has been advised that Plaintiff’s Special Administrative Measures, or SAMs, which are set to expire on June 17, 2009, will not be renewed.

In light of the non-renewal of Plaintiff’s SAMs, Defendants anticipate consulting with Plaintiff and promptly filing a motion to dismiss these proceedings—which challenge the SAMs.

Based on that pleading, the June 12 hearing was vacated. Shorter version: Score a round for Richard Reid, who filed all his papers in handwriting and pro se. He's getting off SAMS on June 17.

Another note: Both the Magistrate Judge and the District Court Judge are recent federal prosecutors, appointed to the bench while they were Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

And one last note: Richard Reid is another example of how the federal criminal courts can be used to try terror suspects. As I wrote here the the day of his sentencing,

Richard Reid's case proves we can provide even the most unlikable defendant charged with a heinous crime the same constitutional rights we provide to all defendants, and get a conviction and a harsh sentence fair and square. We should insist all such cases be tried this way.

< Detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Pleads Not Guilty in Federal Court | Canadian Supermax Inmate Also on Hunger Strike >
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  • Display: Sort:
    Supermax is torture and I don't care (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by lilybart on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 12:28:41 PM EST
    who is imprisoned there, it is inhuman and I believe it violates the Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

    Alternative? (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by WeaponX on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 01:28:33 PM EST
    The word torture has come to mean so much over the last year or so. Scarcely any punitive action can be committed without that word fluttering about. What do you propose we do with these people if we can't execute them, can't interrogate them, and can't lock them up? Set them loose and hope they become "enlightened"?

    Are there not some acts (or would be acts in his case) so heinous that a person forfeits any pretense of human rights? We have to quit trying to treat these people like stray dogs who just need a soft bed and a hearty meal. These are monsters, they are the boogeyman in the closet and no amount of appeasement is going to make them not want to torture and murder you. By all means let the man starve to death if he wants but lets quit spending all of our time worrying about protecting and defending those who wish to do us harm. You aren't going to win their hearts or their minds.


    All I'm worried about protecting... (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by kdog on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 01:38:19 PM EST
    is liberty and some basic human dignity.  Bigger issues at stake than what to do about some extremist whackjobs, at least the way I look at the whole thing.

    You do realize that conditioning the (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Inspector Gadget on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 02:03:00 PM EST
    people to accept torturing of detainees who have not been convicted of anything will eventually lead to brutality at will? I'm thinking of the vigilanties of late, the man who murdered Dr Tillis, the man who just walked into the Holocaust Museum and shot two people, the tasered grandmother, the teenage girl who was assaulted by a police officer, and the daily stories of violence where too many Americans are claiming the victims deserved it.

    Don't (none / 0) (#11)
    by Wile ECoyote on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 02:33:23 PM EST
    forget the guy who murdered shot the recruiter.

    Not sure why (none / 0) (#2)
    by jbindc on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 12:46:05 PM EST
    You think it's torture to keep these people isolated, when around 22% of inmates have killed fellow prisoners in other correctional facilities and 35% have attempted to attack other prisoners or officers.  These are not nice or good people that are housed there, so pardon me if I don't feel sorry for them because they have to have to live with concrete furniture, and have TV and radio, and are not allowed to talk to the media. When people like Eric Rudolph say it's designed to "inflict misery and pain," all I can do is shrug - does he expect me to feel sorry for him?

    Don't feel sorry for them... (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by kdog on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 01:10:50 PM EST
    feel sorry for us jb.

    No doubt there are nastier than nasty people in this world that give us no choice but to lock them up...but I see no reason for us to get nasty too.

    As for Reid, I think it is an inalienable human right to refuse to eat, even for prisoners.  Force-feeding is torture.


    22 and 35% (none / 0) (#5)
    by jondee on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 01:29:34 PM EST
    of ALL inmates, or just inmates in maximum security?

    Where do those numbers come from, jb?


    I think he means (none / 0) (#7)
    by Steve M on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 02:01:57 PM EST
    that 22% of the prisoners in that particular Supermax facility have killed other prisoners, per this link.

    I'm not particularly concerned that prisoners who kill other prisoners end up in long-term solitary - that seems like a pretty easy case - but I'm curious about people like the shoe bomber.


    The stats I read (none / 0) (#9)
    by jbindc on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 02:17:00 PM EST
    was 22% and 35% of inmates at ADX.  Take the stats for what they're worth - they are from Wiki (which got it's other info from the Bureau of Prisons, but that particular stat isn't cited).  Even if the numbers aren't true, I'd say they are close.  ADX holds the worst of the worst.

    And to kdog's point - I agree - let him starve if he wants to starve.  Just get something in writing from the family that they can't sue for not feeding him.


    What if his (none / 0) (#10)
    by Wile ECoyote on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 02:32:34 PM EST
    family does not want him to choose to starve?

    Should be his choice, not his (none / 0) (#13)
    by nycstray on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 05:18:30 PM EST
    family's. Same as end of life decisions. My family knows my wishes, but they are in no position to go against them if I chose DNR etc and sigh the papers.

    I agree. I was addressing (none / 0) (#14)
    by Wile ECoyote on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 08:00:15 PM EST
    the post above.

    using federal courts how??? (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by diogenes on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 05:04:55 PM EST
    This guy was caught red-handed (or red-footed) on a plane with one hundred witnesses.  How does this compare to using a federal court in Washington to try someone captured in Afghanistan when the witnesses are scattered overseas?  

    the ignorance of the courts, or worse (none / 0) (#15)
    by Don1980 on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 11:43:35 PM EST

    I note that the judges wrote that

    "While the defendants may be able to show at a later time that there are legitimate penological interests that justify the complete ban on group prayer at the ADX, absent a more developed record, (...), Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's freedom to congregate claim is properly denied"

    So the judges are saying they don't understand the link between Islam and Islamic violence? Either they are unforgivably ignorant, or they are playing a very dangerous game.