Underwear Bomber's Supermax Suit: Force-Feeding, Abuse by Nudie Mags

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, better known as the Underwear Bomber.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, better known as the Underwear Bomber. File photo
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, dubbed the Underwear Bomber after a failed attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airplane on Christmas 2009, was imprisoned at ADX Florence, aka Supermax, in 2012, immediately making him one of the most notorious terrorists housed in Colorado. Now, Abdulmutallab has filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the federal Bureau of Prisons in which he claims that he's been prevented from properly practicing his Muslim faith, force-fed during hunger strikes staged to protest his treatment and belittled by guards who showed him photos of nude women during prayer time.

This is hardly the first legal complaint about conditions at Supermax. In a 2012 post about a suit put forward on behalf of five ADX inmates and other interested parties, writer Alan Prendergast summarized the portrait of the prison as a "filthy version of hell — a place where untreated, psychotic men mutilate themselves, have delusional conversations with ghosts and live in feces-caked isolation cells for months with little monitoring."

The latest suit, which is accessible below, comes via Johnson & Klein, PLLC, a firm with offices in Denver and Boulder.

In a statement, attorney Gail Johnson maintains that "our client went on hunger strikes as a means of passively protesting violations of his First Amendment rights to free speech and his right to practice his religion in peace. For years, the federal government, through Special Administrative Measures imposed by the Attorney General, prevented Mr. Abdulmutallab from communicating with his own sister. And like other Muslim inmates at ADX, he has been unable to practice his religion without harassment. When he resorted to hunger strikes to address these legitimate concerns, the prison retaliated against him by brutally force-feeding him and transferring him to an even more isolated part of the prison."

An exterior look at ADX Florence. - FILE PHOTO
An exterior look at ADX Florence.
File photo
The Special Administrative Measures mentioned by Johnson are shorthanded as SAMs, and the document maintains that fewer than thirty of the 154,000 inmates in the Bureau of Prisons systems have been slapped with this designation — and all of them are housed in what's known as the H-Unit at ADX.

The SAMs imposed on Abdulmutallab "prohibit him from having any communication whatsoever with more than 7.5 billion people, the vast majority of people on the planet." For a four-year period, he was also forbidden to communicate with his sister, though he is currently able to do so. But group prayer of the sort called for by his Muslim faith is off the table, and he does not have the opportunity to consult with an imam, since none is employed on the ADX staff.

During his five years at ADX, the suit goes on, Abdulmutallab "has not been provided with a halal diet and instead has been forced — sometimes forcibly, sometimes as a result of having no other options — to consume foods that are considered haram, or religiously forbidden, in violation of his sincerely held religious beliefs."

Other force-feeding allegedly came in response to the aforementioned hunger strikes, and the approach taken to getting nourishment into Abdulmutallab is characterized as ultra-aggressive: "On one occasion, the force-feeding tube was placed down his windpipe instead of his esophagus, causing the nutritional supplement liquid to enter his lungs and resulting in Mr. Abdulmutallab feeling like he was being drowned in a manner akin to waterboarding. On other occasions, even when the force-feeding tube was placed down Mr. Abdulmutallab’s esophagus, the high speed and high volume used for the feeding has caused pain and discomfort and has been unnecessarily risky to Mr. Abdulmutallab’s health."

A drawing of his cell by ADX inmate Thomas Silverstein, who has spent decades in solitary confinement. - THOMAS SILVERSTEIN
A drawing of his cell by ADX inmate Thomas Silverstein, who has spent decades in solitary confinement.
Thomas Silverstein
The suit also accuses staff at ADX from looking the other way when white-supremacist inmates at ADX "curse, yell, scream, and say things that are religiously insulting and offensive to Muslims, including to Mr. Abdulmutallab," during prayer time.

On top of that, the complaint continues, "some corrections officers have themselves harassed Mr. Abdulmutallab by displaying to him during prayer times magazines containing photographs of naked women, which is religiously offensive to him. Corrections officers have also defiled religious items in Mr. Abdulmutallab’s cell, such as his prayer rug and Qu’ran."

Abdulmutallab isn't seeking any changes related to the length of his sentence; he's currently serving four terms of life imprisonment plus fifty years for his attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction. Instead, he's asking for an injunction ordering that he be removed from solitary confinement, as well as Bureau of Prisons actions that will "allow him to engage in daily congregational prayers, provide him with regular access to an imam, and provide him with a halal diet in accordance with his sincerely held religious beliefs."

Click to read Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab v. Jeff Sessions, et. al.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts