Judge deciding US-born Taliban fighter's lawsuit
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Allowing convicted Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and other Muslim inmates to pray daily in a group at their Indiana prison would be dangerous, unaffordable and unfair to other inmates, prison officials said Thursday during a trial in Lindh's lawsuit that alleges his religious rights are being violated.
Lindh, who is serving a 20-year sentence for aiding the Taliban during the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, argues that the high-security prison's policy barring such congregate rituals violates his and other Muslim inmates' rights. His lawsuit cites a 1993 law that bans the government from curtailing religious speech without showing a compelling interest.
But government witnesses testified that Muslims, who make up the majority of inmates in the Communications Management Unit at the prison complex at Terre Haute, Ind., have operated like a gang under the guise of religious activity. Prison officials said Muslims have assaulted each other over religious disputes on at least one occasion and organized to intimidate other inmates.
"It almost appeared like a gang-like activity," Bureau of Prisons counterterrorism chief Leslie Smith said, referring to an October 2007 incident in which he said five Muslim inmates attacked another one over what he said were religious differences. "We normally see that with gangs."
One of the inmates involved in that assault testified earlier this week that the fight had nothing to do with religion.
Weekly religious gatherings are permitted for inmates of all faiths, along with additional ceremonies during high holy days such as Christmas or Ramadan, officials testified. Extending Muslim group prayers to a daily basis would strain prison resources and likely foster resentment unless the same opportunity was extended to all inmates.
"They would demand it," said Charles Lockett, a former warden at Terre Haute. "They would absolutely demand it."
The prison complex would have to hire 84 chaplains to provide daily prayers for all inmates, he said, which would cost $8.4 million a year. The prison's budget is about $94 million a year, Lockett testified.
American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana legal director Ken Falk objected repeatedly to much of both men's testimony, calling it hearsay, and U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson mostly sustained his objections.
The government rested its case following Thursday's testimony, but the judge didn't immediately issue a ruling. She gave both sides about 75 days to submit their final documents in the case, though she didn't indicate when she might rule.
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