RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
An NPR investigation has revealed new details about these units - what life is like inside them and what happens to inmates when they get out. Here's NPR's Carrie Johnson.
CARRIE JOHNSON: The groups live side by side and they have little contact with the outside world - not even their families. But when inmates are preparing to get out, they often get a lot of face time with the authorities, and that includes the FBI. Avon Twitty returned home to Washington a few months ago.
MONTAGNE: OK. You need to sit down? Come on. You can sit. Relax your legs.
JOHNSON: Twitty avoided an FBI interview because he insisted that his lawyer attend. Authorities backed off in his case. But another prisoner told Twitty what happened to him.
MONTAGNE: One of the questions was, do you want a job? I got a job for you.
JOHNSON: What did that mean?
MONTAGNE: That mean that they recruiting rats, snitches. They want to know if they can pressure you enough where you will come out here in free society and you will talk to people in the community and go back and inform on the Muslims. And that's the only kind of job he can give you. He can't give you a job down there sweeping the floor and mopping the floor.
JOHNSON: Over the next several months, more inmates will be released from the special units. Our investigation identified 20 of them who have been released so far.
P: I think the real question is, what are the constraints and how are we sure that the right people are being placed in these units and not the wrong ones?
JOHNSON: That's Stephen Vladeck. He teaches constitutional law at American University, and he reviewed some of our findings this week. We found two reports marked law enforcement sensitive from 2009. Some of the reports describe religious tension among different Muslim groups in the units, at least one violent episode involving a man described as an enforcer. Here's what else we found...
MONTAGNE: Omar Mohammed Ali Rezaq. He hijacked an Egypt air flight with other members of his Palestinian terrorist group in 1985. NPR's Alex Chadwick described what happened next.
ALEX CHADWICK: The hijackers get on the place at the airport in Athens, Greece. The flight was going to Cairo. When the plane was airborne, the hijackers apparently pulled guns.
JOHNSON: These days, Rezaq lives in the CMU in Marion along with Muslims who are convicted in FBI sting operations. But many of those men didn't have the resources to carry out a plot on their own. Law Professor Steve Vladeck says he wants to know more about that.
MONTAGNE: Mix in prisoners from different backgrounds who actually don't necessarily each live up to those criteria, I think there's trouble in two respects.
JOHNSON: First, he says, some inmates in the special units might not belong there, but they have to live with all the harsh restrictions anyway.
MONTAGNE: And second, it dilutes the purpose of having the special program in the first place.
JOHNSON: Rachel Meeropol works at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
MONTAGNE: So there's no way for individuals, some of whom are serving very long sentences, to begin the process of figuring out how they're going to live once they're released from prison. You know, this is something that's incredibly difficult for the prisoners who experience it, and it really is a public safety issue for the public at large.
JOHNSON: Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
MONTAGNE: You can read more on the cases of the prisoners NPR identified at NPR.org.
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