Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing serving a prison term of life plus 240 years, asked an appeals court to lift restrictions on his contact with the outside world.
Yousef has been under so-called special administrative measures, or SAMs, in the maximum-security federal prison in Florence, Colorado, since 1998, his lawyer said. Other prisoners there include Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber; and Terry Nichols, convicted in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Yousef, 44, is barred from having physical contact with other inmates, and his communications with anyone outside the prison are severely restricted, his attorney, Bernard V. Kleinman, said yesterday in a court hearing. The lawyer is challenging the government’s decision to re-impose the measures annually without explanation.
“He was convicted in 1996, and that’s never going to change,” Kleinman told a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan. “In the year 2075 he’ll still be re-upped because he’s still convicted of the offenses.”
Yousef, who the Sept. 11 Commission identified as the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the terrorist attacks, was convicted by juries in federal court in New York in two terrorism cases, the first for a plot to bomb a dozen U.S. passenger jetliners in the Far East in one day and the second for the World Trade Center bombing.
Six people were killed in the 1993 bombing and more than a thousand injured. A Japanese man was killed during a trial run of the airliner plot, witnesses at the trial testified.
At Colorado’s so-called Supermax facility 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of Denver, Yousef is housed alone in a separate wing of the prison and human interaction is limited to prison guards. His mail is monitored and the last time Yousef met with his lawyer in person was in October 2010, Kleinman said.
“He recognizes he’ll be in jail for the rest of his life,” Kleinman said in an interview after court. “But certainly to have some human interaction is a reasonable request for anyone,” he said. “Being a prisoner is punishment enough.”
U.S. District Judge Kevin Duffy, who presided over Yousef’s trials, last year rejected the challenge to the prison conditions.
Federal authorities have said the conditions were imposed and have been renewed annually because Yousef still poses a “substantial risk” that his communications with the outside could lead to “death or serious bodily injury.”
Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Yousef had other prisoners nearby, including Kaczynski, Nichols and his co-defendant, Timothy McVeigh, before McVeigh was executed in 2001, Kleinman said.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Yousef was moved to a segregated wing of six cells, Kleinman said. Other convicted terrorists were also moved to the Colorado facility and housed separately from Yousef, he said.
U.S. Bureau of Prisons records show that at least four others convicted with Yousef are also at the Florence facility, including Mohammad Salameh and Eyad Ismoil.
The lawyer said Yousef was watching television on the day of the Sept. 11 attacks and was later questioned by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The lawyer said he and Yousef have never discussed the attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or the killing of Osama bin Laden.
‘Someone to Talk’
Yousef spends much of his time focused on the conditions of his confinement, Kleinman said after court. When a prison official came to visit, Yousef seized the chance to speak with him because “it was just someone to talk to,” Kleinman said.
“Human interaction is really a big issue with him,” Kleinman said. “I think it’s plainly unfair. I know he’s not a sympathetic character, I know there are legitimate hard feelings but the government should apply the same rules to everybody or not apply them at all.”
The appeals court panel didn’t say when it will rule.
Chris Burke, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, declined to comment on the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Lewin, representing the government, declined to comment after court.
Mohammed, who was charged as a co-defendant in the airline bombing plot, is set to face trial before a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The cases are U.S. v. Ramzi Yousef, 93-cr-180, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan); and 11-3920, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Manhattan).