Terror suspect still in solitary at MCC 20 months after arrest

April 4, 2012 4:24:53 PM PDT
In this Intelligence Report: Questions about why an accused Chicago terrorist remains locked up in solitary confinement more than a year and a half after his arrest.

Terror suspect Shaker Masri was arrested in 2010 on his way to Midway. The FBI says he was headed to Somalia on a suicide mission. Since his arrest, Masri has been confined to what is known as "the SHU" -- or the Special Housing Unit.

The warden claims Masri would likely recruit other Islamic inmates to commit terrorist acts if he was housed with the general prison population. Masri's attorney contends his client is being unfairly punished, even before trial.

For more than 600 days, Masri has been in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. The FBI says his goal was to kill members of the U.S. military by blowing himself up next to a busload of American soldiers.

Masri's attorneys say the amount of time their client has spent in isolation constitutes cruel and unusual punishment because he has not been convicted of a crime. Court documents made public Wednesday ask for Masri to be transferred from "the SHU" into the general population so he can "assist in the preparation of his defense" -- which they claim has been nearly impossible because of where he is housed.

On one occasion, a female attorney representing Masri was not allowed to see him because "cardigan sweaters are not allowed in the SHU."

In an unusual move, MCC warden Catherine Linaweaver wrote a letter to the judge in the case, stating, "Mr. Masri is very dedicated to his cause and would likely radicalize other inmates if given the opportunity."

Linaweaver sites a 2004 inspector general report that says inmates are logical targets for terrorism recruitment because they have a predisposition to violence, feel disenfranchised from society, desire power and have hostility towards authority.

Masri's defense team has three big names in the field of representing terror suspects, including Chicago attorney Tom Durkin. He told the I-Team Wednesday afternoon he is furious about the letter and that Masri's prolonged confinement in isolation brings up significant 1st Amendment and religious liberty issues.

Letters written by Masri in 2010, and obtained by the I-Team, provide a glimpse of life in the Special Housing Unit. In one letter, Masri wrote, "I am in solitary confinement. I am alone, which is a blessing."

Other Chicago terrorism suspects were moved from solitary confinement into the general prison population after about six months.

Masri's attorneys say medical research shows long periods of isolation can cause psychological problems. But, according to the warden, she says Masri's most recent assessment shows he has no distress and has adjusted to his environment.

Masri will be back in court early next month.