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Backers of U.S. Muslim Held in Terror War Call for His Release

September 26, 2002|From Associated Press

SEATTLE — Supporters of a Muslim man charged with trying to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon demanded his release Wednesday, saying the government has offered no reason for keeping him in "appalling" conditions in a federal jail.

Earnest James Ujaama, a U.S. citizen who recently lived in London, has been kept in solitary confinement at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, south of here. He has been barred from contacting his mother or the rest of his family, and has been granted just one phone call to his lawyers in the last two weeks.

There has been so much secrecy surrounding his case that officials at the center routinely say they have no public record of him. Even his lawyers were told that.

"We were told that he wasn't there," Seattle lawyer Peter Offenbecher said Wednesday. "And it's certainly true that he has not been able to call or visit with his family. These conditions are unwarranted and unnecessary."

Eventually, jail officials granted Offenbecher and co-counsel Bob Mahler permission to meet with Ujaama, and they have seen him several times since, Offenbecher said.

But Ujaama's family and friends are furious. They called a news conference Wednesday on the steps of the federal courthouse here. Ujaama is scheduled for a detention hearing Tuesday at the courthouse.

"What threat does the government feel that I am, that I present, that they deny me the right to meet with my son?" asked Ujaama's mother, Peggi Thompson.

She said she received a letter from him Saturday saying that he was in good spirits.

King County Councilman Larry Gossett said Ujaama volunteered with black youth while growing up in Seattle's Central Area. "I'm concerned about the appalling way the federal government is treating Mr. Ujaama," Gossett said. "What's happened to him has happened to a lot of other citizens caught up in the war on terrorism."

The U.S. attorney's office in Seattle declined to comment, and Russell Heisner, a spokesman for the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, refused to discuss Ujaama's conditions there.

"There's no public information about this person," Heisner said.

Similarly, a federal Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said she had no record of anyone named Ujaama. She recommended typing his prisoner reference number into a search engine on the Bureau of Prisons Web site; doing so yielded only a statement reading, "We have no record of an inmate with a Register Number of 31117-013 in our database."

A U.S. Marshals spokesman in Seattle was the only government official to confirm that Ujaama, 36, is being held in SeaTac.

Authorities arrested Ujaama on July 22 in Denver, where he was visiting his brother, and held him as a material witness.

He wasn't accused of a crime until Aug. 29, when a grand jury in Seattle indicted him on one count of conspiracy to provide material support for the Al Qaeda terrorist network, and another count of using, carrying, possessing and discharging firearms during a crime.

Ujaama has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Published reports have indicated he is a friend of the radical London cleric Abu Hamza Al-Masri and ran a now-defunct anti-American Web site.

The indictment says a cooperating witness described a conspiracy in which Ujaama tried to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore. The Justice Department has offered little in the way of evidence.

Bruce Nestor, president of the National Lawyers Guild, a New York-based group, said Ujaama's case illustrates the dangers of expanding the executive branch's powers since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Mr. Ujaama is one of an unknown number--in the range of 2,000--of people who were picked up, jailed in secrecy and routinely denied access to attorneys, to family," Nestor said.

"Unless the government can make a compelling case to the contrary, we call for James Ujaama to be removed from isolation and allowed to communicate with his family and friends."

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