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Mistreatment of Muslim inmates cited

Inspector's report faults US prison

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General said yesterday it had ''found a disturbing pattern of discriminatory and retaliatory actions against Muslim inmates" by the warden and guards at an unnamed federal prison, one in a series of criticisms the internal watchdog leveled against the federal Bureau of Prisons in connection with its treatment of Muslims.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine also disclosed that an FBI agent sent an e-mail to field offices ''identifying the names and addresses of the proprietors and customers of a Muslim-based website," along with instructions to ''take whatever action it deemed appropriate" against any local people on the list. The FBI later conceded the e-mail was probably illegal, he said.

The report was the latest in a series of semiannual reviews of civil rights and civil liberties violations required by a provision of the USA Patriot Act, the law enforcement powers enacted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The new report comes a year after Fine disclosed that guards had beaten and verbally abused some of the hundreds of Muslim detainees swept up on immigration charges by the FBI after the Sept. 11 attacks and held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. None of the detainees was found to have a connection to the attacks.

Yesterday, Fine noted that although he sent the results of the Brooklyn investigation to the Bureau of Prisons for its ''review and appropriate disciplinary action" in December 2003, no corrections officer has been held accountable.

''The . . . review still is ongoing, and the [Bureau of Prisons] still is considering appropriate disciplinary action," he wrote.

Fine said his investigators uncovered a ''disturbing pattern" of mistreatment against Muslim prisoners at another federal prison by ''members of the prison's executive staff, including the warden." A spokesman for Fine declined to identify the prison to protect the privacy of those under investigation.

Fine asked the Justice Department to prosecute prison officials for their actions, but the local US attorney's office declined to do so, the report said. He then forwarded the report to the Bureau of Prisons for ''administrative action" against them.

Investigators determined that Muslim inmates were denied transfers to other cells that would ''facilitate their prayer requirements," while non- Muslims received similar transfers. Muslims were also ''unfairly punished" if they complained about prison conditions or cooperated with the Inspector General investigation.

''A Muslim inmate who had filed complaints relating to his treatment at the prison was placed in the Special Housing Unit for four months for what we determined were specious reasons," the report said. ''In a separate incident, our review found that 5 days after [we] interviewed a Muslim inmate, the warden inappropriately and unjustly ordered the inmate transferred to the Special Housing Unit for more than 120 days."

Ibrahim Cooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an Islamic civil rights and advocacy group based in Washington, said that the findings of the report were ''disturbing," but that he was heartened that they were being examined.

''We're obviously concerned that these abuses occurred in the first place, but we're also pleased that they're being investigated thoroughly," Cooper said.

Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, said that the agency has not reviewed Fine's report but that it did not treat abuse allegations lightly.

''Any substantiated incidents of misconduct are addressed with appropriate disciplinary actions and, where appropriate, criminal prosecution," she said.

Fine also announced that his office has opened a new investigation into a complaint by a Muslim inmate at an unnamed Bureau of Prisons facility. The inmate contended that correctional officers who hated Muslims ''used excessive force on him, gave other inmates permission to assault him, and then covered up the incidents."

The FBI was also the subject of several civil liberties reviews, notably an incident in which an agent in one field office asked other field offices to take action against a list of people who had visited a Muslim- related website. An FBI employee concerned about the lack of a sufficient basis for investigating those people sent the e-mail to the Office of the Inspector General, the report said. The FBI's internal affairs division later ''notified us that the FBI recognized that the [e-mail] raised First Amendment concerns."

The FBI told Fine that it had repudiated the e-mail, ordered all copies destroyed, and directed that ''no further investigative action" be taken based on it.

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