SO FEARED is America’s hardest prison that the Irish Government refuses to extradite a terror suspect just in case he ends up there.
Ali Charaf Damache, 50, is accused of providing material support to terrorism by using online chat rooms to recruit American women into a terrorist cell. His wife and two others have already been convicted in US courts.
Damache was captured in Ireland but, rather than send him overseas, the Irish High Court decided to simply let him go. He had served time there on a lesser death-threat conviction and faced no additional charges in Ireland.
It is a ruling that shines the light on the ADX supermax, a prison that houses the world’s worst criminals but does whatever it takes to keep them under control.
Dubbed the ‘Alcatraz of the Rockies’ the federal facility houses 500 prisoners. Among them are 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols and Joseph Swango — AKA “Dr Death” — a serial killer who poisoned 60 of his patients.
Convicted Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being held there until his death sentence is carried out.
The prison has operated in near secrecy for more than 20 years but details of what goes on have slowly begun leaking out.
Amnesty International toured the prison, not far from the city of Florence in the Colorado Rockies. What they found was deeply disturbing. They said this week that the Irish Government’s decision is a win for human rights.
Prisoners there are shackled to their beds inside cells no larger than 3.6m long and 2.1m wide. They are kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day and fed through a hole in the door. Most get no sunlight. Many spiral into deep depression and others lose their minds completely.
A prisoner named Jack Powers, a man who robbed 30 banks, was so adversely affected by his treatment that he swallowed razor blades and toothbrushes, cut off his earlobes and tattooed himself with deep wounds.
In the High Court’s ruling on May 21, Justice Aileen Donnelly said there was “compelling evidence” the prison is inhumane.
In her 333-page decision, Justice Donnelly said: “Prolonged exposure to involuntary solitary exacts a significant physiological toll, is damaging to the integrity of the mind and personality, and is damaging to the bodily integrity of the person”.
It’s a sentiment shared by US President Barack Obama who last month ordered an inquiry into solitary confinement following the tragic death of Kalief Browder. A spokesman for Amnesty International told news.com.au the supermax could be in breach of international standards for humane treatment of prisoners.
“As we pointed out in our report last year, now cited in the Ireland High Court decision, conditions of isolation in this prison, especially when applied for a prolonged period or indefinitely, amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in violation of international law.
“The ruling out of Ireland serves as a timely reminder for the USA to inject a sense of urgency into ending its cruel use of isolation. Such action is long overdue.”
Robert Hood, who was a prison warden at the ADX between 2002 and 2005, told the New York Times there is little consideration given to reforming prisoners. “Let’s be candid here. It’s not designed for rehabilitation,” he said.
Damache won’t have to worry about that now.
The Algerian-born Irish citizen spent five years behind bars after being arrested in 2010. He was convicted of making a death threat over the phone to a Michigan-based Muslim critic. US authorities immediately requested he be extradited to face additional terror charges over a plot to assassinate Lars Vilks, the Swedish cartoonist who drew the prophet Muhammad as a dog. But Ireland stayed strong.
If extradited, Damache would have faced up to 45 years behind bars.
Upon his release in Dublin, he thanked the government for keeping him out of the US, and for keeping him out of the supermax. “I always had faith in the Irish legal system. After more than five years in jail I am looking forward to moving on with my life here.”