‘American Taliban’ Terrorist Heading to Court to Fight for Islamic Group Prison Prayer
August 27, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS - The U.S. government claims it has the ultimate proof that American-born Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh might foment hate and violence among fellow Muslim inmates if they're allowed to pray together daily. He has already tried, it argues.
But Lindh, 31, accuses the government of going too far in its drive for security and trampling on his freedom of religion by restricting group prayers among Muslim inmates in the Terre Haute, Ind., prison unit where he has been housed since 2007.
Lindh is expected to testify Monday in federal court in Indianapolis during the first day of a trial that will examine how far prison officials can go to ensure security in the age of terrorism.
Muslims are required to pray five times a day, and the Hanbali school to which Lindh belongs requires group prayer if it is possible. But inmates in the Communications Management Unit are allowed to pray together only once a week except during Ramadan. At other times, they must pray in their individual cells. Lindh claims that doesn't meet the Quran's requirements and is inappropriate because he is forced to kneel in close proximity to his toilet.
Thomas Farr, a former diplomat who now teaches at Georgetown University and studies religion and terrorism, said common sense suggests that the prison's need for security would outweigh Lindh's religious rights.
"The foremost responsibility of prison officials, as de facto proxies for the American people, is to prevent Mr. Lindh from obtaining any capacity to plan or carry out attacks on them," he wrote in an email. "That is why he is in prison, and if that is not a compelling state interest, I do not know what is."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which is representing Lindh, contends the policy violates a federal law barring the government from restricting religious activities without showing a compelling need.
"This is an open unit where prisoners are basically out all day," said ACLU legal director Ken Falk, who noted that inmates are allowed to play basketball and board games, watch television and converse as long as they speak English so the guards can understand. "They can do basically any peaceful activity except praying," he said. "It makes no sense to say this is one activity we're going to prohibit in the name of security."
Attorneys for the government maintain that Lindh's own behavior since he was placed in the unit in 2007 proves the risks of allowing group prayer.
The government says in court documents that Lindh delivered a "radical, all-Arabic sermon" to other Muslim prisoners in February that was in keeping with techniques in a manual seized from al-Qaida members that details how terrorists should conduct themselves when they are imprisoned.