Last Updated:September 20 @ 08:20 am

American Taliban seeks group prayer in prison

By Charles Wilson

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - An American-born Taliban fighter imprisoned in Indiana will try to convince a federal judge that his religious freedom trumps security concerns in a closely watched trial that will examine how far prisons can go to ensure security in the age of terrorism.

John Walker Lindh was expected to testify Monday in Indianapolis during the first day of the trial over prayer policies in a tightly restricted prison unit where he and other high-risk inmates have severely limited contact with the outside world.

Lindh, 31, a Muslim convert who was charged with supporting terrorists after he was captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and later pleaded guilty to lesser charges, claims his religious rights are being violated because the federal prison in Terre Haute deprives him of daily group prayer.

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 says that doesn't meet the Quran's requirements and is inappropriate because he is forced to kneel in close proximity to his toilet.

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, noting 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."

Joe Hogsett, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, said he believes decisions about prison regulations are best made by prison officials, "not by convicted terrorists and other dangerous criminals who reside there."

"Mr. Lindh is allowed to pray in his cell; he's allowed to pray wherever he happens to be as many times every day as his religion suggests to him that he should," Hogsett said. "Where the rules must draw the line is how often must prison officials allow prisoners to congregate together?"

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.

Lindh's sermon proves "that religious activities led by Muslim inmates are being used as a vehicle for radicalization and violence in the CMU," the government claims.

Falk said Lindh's speech wasn't radical and was given during the weekly prayer that inmates are permitted. He said Lindh was not disciplined for the speech.

The self-contained unit in which Lindh resides has 43 inmates, 24 of whom are Muslim. Inmates are under open and covert audio and video surveillance, and except for talks with their attorney, all of their phone calls are monitored. Prisoners are not allowed to touch their family members when they come for their tightly limited visits. They must speak English at all times except when reciting ritual prayers in Arabic.

Without such tight security, the government claims, the prisoners would be able to conspire with outsiders to commit terrorist or criminal acts.

According to court documents, daily prayers were allowed from the time the unit opened in 2006 until May 2007, when Muslim inmates refused to stop in the middle of a prayer to return to their cells during a fire emergency.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2009 by two Muslim inmates in the unit. Lindh joined the lawsuit in 2010, and the case has drawn far more attention since then. The other plaintiffs have dropped out as they were released from prison or transferred to other units.

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.

Stanford University terrorism expert Martha Crenshaw said prison officials have legitimate security concerns but questioned how dangerous Lindh really was, noting that he was not a leader or an influential cleric. Even the government says Lindh is currently characterized as a minimum-security prisoner.

He had been charged with conspiring to kill Americans and support terrorists, but those charges were dropped in a plea agreement. He is serving a 20-year sentence for supplying services to the now-defunct Taliban government of Afghanistan and carrying explosives for them and is eligible for release in 2019.

"The fact that the charge of conspiring to kill Americans was dropped could be considered evidence that he was not a personally violent jihadist," Crenshaw said in an email.

"Certainly after 9/11 the pendulum has swung toward preventing terrorism at almost any cost," Crenshaw said. "I would like to think that it could be swinging back, but it swings slowly. Once established, routines are hard to change."

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15 Comments

  1. capricorn1Comment by capricorn1
    August 27, 2012 @ 7:40 am

    american and taliban in the same sentance,why is this dirt bag breathing american air?now he wants group prayer to convert others to the peaceful religion.america you better wak up and smell the tolerance cause it will get us all killed.

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    Rating: 4.6/5 (21 votes cast)
  2. genesalComment by genesal
    August 27, 2012 @ 8:07 am

    but questioned how dangerous Lindh really was
    supplying services to the now-defunct Taliban government of Afghanistan and carrying explosives for them

    How dangerous is a Terrorist? Dangerous enough that they ALL should receive their 72 virgins courtesy of the U.S. government!

    Rights should be for people who live within the Rules of Society, not terrorists.

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    Rating: 4.6/5 (21 votes cast)
    • lwessonComment by lwesson
      August 27, 2012 @ 9:27 am

      The Negative Star Trolls are out and about genesal. In fact, it seems to me, the Trolls have gotten worse and pretend to be Conservative so that they can direct us where they want us to go. This will only get worse as Team Obama flames out and spirals into the ground.

      What is amazing is that they seem to support the Taliban, terrorists… .

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      Rating: 4.5/5 (15 votes cast)
    • genesalComment by genesal
      August 27, 2012 @ 9:44 am

      Amen!

      Anybody supporting terrorists deserves the moongod they worship. May they end up in the Allah_gheny River.

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      Rating: 4.5/5 (16 votes cast)
  3. Victor DeCurtisComment by Victor DeCurtis
    August 27, 2012 @ 9:28 am

    Take this piece of garbage, out to a local pig farm, and hang him. Then drop his carcass, in among the pigs, so they can devour and then expel his sorry AZS! muslim vermin will never stop disrupting U.S. and a jew will always be tasked to help them. It is a strange world, indeed.

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    Rate this comment:
    Rating: 4.2/5 (16 votes cast)
  4. SpiderMikeComment by SpiderMike
    August 27, 2012 @ 9:50 am

    The day we acknowledge that we are at war with islam is the day we win.

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    Rating: 4.6/5 (20 votes cast)
  5. thegreatricardoComment by thegreatricardo
    August 27, 2012 @ 10:50 am

    genesal,

    I have been reading you posts for a few years now. You Sir, have a way of putting together words that few seem to have while posting.
    “Rights should be for people who live within the Rules of Society, not terrorists.”
    Wonderful. Simply Wonderful.

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    Rating: 4.4/5 (13 votes cast)
    • genesalComment by genesal
      August 27, 2012 @ 11:51 am

      Thanks!

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      Rating: 3.0/5 (4 votes cast)
  6. hank1931Comment by hank1931
    August 27, 2012 @ 11:02 am

    The above quote, “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.”

    Would the ruling (if happened) state that they must give their prayers in English so it would be consistent with other prison rules or would the Taliban demand more change from the prison?

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    Rating: 3.3/5 (6 votes cast)
  7. bna42Comment by bna42
    August 27, 2012 @ 11:15 am

    “Where the rules must draw the line is how often must prison officials allow prisoners to congregate together?”

    What people need to realize is that this guy is in prison and has only the rights allowed by the warden. He wasn’t sent there for fun and games. These jerks try to use Islam as a religion to get their agenda pushed forward, and Americans are gullible enough to fall for the scam. It’s not surprising that the ACLU is representing this terrorist because they always seem to be on the anti-American side of every issue. As soon as Lindh was convicted he should have been executed after being smeared with hog lard to let these radicals know we will not tolerate their attacks.

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    Rating: 4.3/5 (12 votes cast)
  8. bgannyfComment by babs
    August 27, 2012 @ 1:27 pm

    they give up their rights when they conspire to kill or willfully act to kill or harm American Citizens.

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    Rating: 4.1/5 (11 votes cast)
    • canada3dayerComment by canada3dayer
      August 28, 2012 @ 4:08 am

      he gave up his rights when he went to prison.

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      Rating: 2.8/5 (4 votes cast)
  9. Eagle OneComment by Eagle One
    August 27, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

    What rights? What Privileges? Boy, you gave that up when you left the United States, became a traitor and conspired to kill US citizens and soldiers.
    Spit on you! You can pray with your head IN the toilet, and face the west away from Mecca. While your in this country you will speak English at all times, prayer or otherwise.
    You no longer HAVE any RIGHTS fool. You are not special, you are a terrorist against the United States. You will be treated as such until you are dead. Got that, jack-wagon!

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    Rating: 4.2/5 (11 votes cast)
  10. BillzillaComment by Billzilla
    August 27, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

    Who cares about what this piece of vermin wants? Screw him!

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    Rating: 3.7/5 (6 votes cast)
  11. hitthedeckComment by hitthedeck
    August 28, 2012 @ 12:25 am

    There are no prayer rules in the Quran about group prayer. It’s BS and I hope a federal judge doesn’t fall for this ****. These low life’s like to play our constitution for their use but despise every thing it stands for.

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    Rating: 3.2/5 (5 votes cast)

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