Monday, February 18, 2013

Ethical Dilemma

Yesterday I read this article (written by Richard A. Serrano and published in the LA Times) about a terrorist that has been in solitary confinement for fifteen years.  He is suing for release from solitary confinement.  If you have time and interest in this topic, please read and let me know your thoughts.

Ramzi Yousef, inmate No. 03911 at a federal "supermax" penitentiary, is serving life with no parole plus 240 years in a 7-by-11-foot cell with no bars and one small high window, far from other inmates, prison staff and the world beyond the fortress deep in the Colorado Rockies.

He has been there for 15 years, in nearly 24-hour solitary confinement at the prison they call the "Fortress in the Rockies." Even his meals provide little relief, with the food trays shoved by unseen guards through a sally port between two steel doors. The only other inmate within shouting range has killed others in prison.

Yousef, now 44, knows he will never go free. An avowed terrorist convicted in the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing, he killed six people and injured more than 1,000. But in a lawsuit, he is trying to persuade a federal judge to at least release him from solitary confinement. The judge is expected to rule soon whether the suit will go to trial.

Despite his good behavior, Yousef says, he is being kept isolated because he is a convicted terrorist, something he can never change — and that, he argues, is a violation of his due process of law.

"I request an immediate end to my solitary confinement and ask to be in a unit in an open prison environment where inmates are allowed outside their cells for no less than 14 hours a day," he wrote the warden, according to confidential government records obtained by The Times. "I have been in solitary confinement in the U.S. since Feb. 8, 1995, with no end in sight.... I further ask not to be in handcuffs or leg irons when moved outside my cell."

The suit says that long-term solitary confinement leaves him "no hope or prospect of any remedial condition" and that it has led to "severe psychological trauma." His lawyer, Bernard V. Kleinman, said in an interview that Yousef already "demonstrates a degree of paranoia and a degree of fear that would not be normal or expected if he was in the general population or had more contact with other inmates."

The prison warden maintains that Yousef is still a serious security threat, but some outside experts agree with Yousef that his treatment is unconstitutional.

Colin Dayan, a humanities professor at Vanderbilt University who has studied solitary confinement in Arizona, said many prison administrations use isolation without regard to psychological damage to inmates.

"You no longer know what's real," she said. "You can't speak to anyone; you can't touch anyone: your senses no longer have any outlet. You have delusions and become psychotic. Your mind deteriorates."

The newly obtained documents show just how brazen Yousef was after he was captured in 1995, and why officials have long been concerned about his potential for still more damage.

"Ramzi Yousef is a cold-blooded killer, completely devoid of conscience," said U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy of New York, in an unusual memo last October in which he agreed the Yousef lawsuit should be heard in Denver rather than New York, the site of the bombing.
He noted that Yousef's uncle is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged Sept. 11 mastermind. "Yousef was close to his relative KSM both in blood and in mental desire to wreak havoc on civilized society," the judge said.

Duffy added that during his trial, Yousef "was collecting urea in his cell, a main ingredient in the WTC bomb," and "also attempted to obtain the particular type of cheap wristwatch that had been used as the timing device" in bombs intended for airplanes.

In addition to the trade center blast, which he masterminded after slipping into the country from Pakistan a month earlier, he was also convicted of trying to kill Pope John Paul II and President Clinton and trying to bomb 11 airliners on their way from Asia to the U.S. His plots were financed by Al Qaeda and his uncle, allegedly the person behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Yes, I am a terrorist, and proud of it," Yousef told Duffy at his January 1998 sentencing. "You are butchers, liars and hypocrites."

Duffy has also refused to approve $23,225 in legal fees for Kleinman, who told the appellate court that the judge was trying to "tar me, somehow, with my client's actions and those of his relatives."

Warden David Berkebile wrote to Yousef in November, in response to his requests to get out of solitary: "You are a violent jihadist, committed to waging war on the United States, with a strong following of supporters and admirers. There is substantial risk that your communications or contacts could result in death or serious bodily injury to others."

Flying back to New York after he was arrested in Pakistan, Yousef had boasted to FBI agents about his bomb-making skills and, according to a 21-page FBI memo, said he was motivated to kill because of U.S. aid to Israel.

"His desire," the agents wrote, was "to topple one tower into the other, and cause a total of 250,000 civilian deaths."

Yousef said he expected the death penalty, but instead received life.

Do you think he should be released from solitary confinement?  


Jen said...

I have a hard time feeling sorry for this individual. His crime and his lack of remorse? Yeah...Sorry pal. Where's the ethical dilemma? He's being fed and most likely kept alive by being kept away from the general population. You know they'd shank his ass in a heartbeat if they knew what he did.

melifaif said... YOU?

Claire Kiefer said...

I doubt you will be surprised to hear that I think solitary confinement in general is totally ridiculous and barbaric. I understand that there are some incredibly dangerous, sociopathic people who need to be kept isolated from society. But solitary confinement is a form of torture (as documented time and time again), and it seems to exemplify hypocrisy to me that the U.S. government enacts exactly what it purports to be punishing.

What is the harm in having this guy in general population--perhaps under close watch? Keeping someone in a dark, cold cell for 23 hours a day is a gross misuse of power, in my opinion. I don't think any human should be treated so cruelly, regardless of what they've done. There are so many factors involved: 1) people don't choose to be born/become sociopaths; 2) if this guy was related to the 9/11 mastermind, then he was likely groomed for this life from early childhood; 3) there are various aspects of 9/11 that make me suspicious.

What do you think??

Improbable Joe said...

Yeah, you let him out. Prolonged solitary confinement is torture, and torture is ethically wrong no matter how "evil" you consider the victim to be. The restrictions on behavior of the government exist because it shouldn't have the power to pick and choose who is worthy of humane treatment.

Jen said...

@ Claire. I think if you tried to put yourself in places of the people that died, probably suffered trying to breath or from being on fire? And the feelings of their families and loved ones sick of heartache at the deaths and HOW they died? There's no way you could think for a second that this person deserves any mercy. I think he's shown that doesn't give a shit and doesn't want therapy or to become a better person. Do you also know how much money it would cost to have him under "close watch" in a sea of crazies that LOVE their country? Come on...

Annabelle Archer said...

I like to fancy myself a compassionate, wise humane human being. But at the end of the day I am fundamentally a primal, Your Choices = Hard Consequences individual.

At the end of the day though, this newly passed NDAA legislation scares me to pieces and I worry that it will absolutely lead to innocent people being treated unconscionably. Maybe we should all build up a little prisoner Karma, just in case we all need a little compassion should we be on the wrong side of the power.

Alisa said...

I have to side with Claire Kiefer and Improbable Joe. Two wrongs...

Lorena said...

Nope, not sorry.
He's got good behavior because he is on his own - he is alone.
I am actually surprised he did not get the death sentence, he is alive, being maintained by tax payer's money- I may go to hell for this, but, I think he should stay where he is.

Jo said...

i read this post a couple of days ago, and i read all of the responses. i wanted to comment then, but i keep going back and forth on the issue, for the very same reasons the bloggers who responded feel so strongly about either side. this one is really haunting me!

lara said...

I've been torn on this as well. I think his arrogance was revealed in the other requests and that bothers me.