Judge rules Rikers Island inmate has no special right to matzoh

A U.S. federal judge has ruled that a Jewish inmate in a New York jail does not have a constitutionally protected right to matzoh and grape juice.

Christopher Henry, who was convicted of first-degree sodomy, claimed permanent trauma and malnourishment and requested nearly $10 billion in damages for what he called a violation of his First Amendment right to religious freedom.

Henry didn’t request matzoh for Passover, the Jewish holiday during which it is traditionally eaten. Instead, Henry claimed he had a right to have the unleavened bread served daily and grape juice every Friday.

But…U.S. Southern District Judge Shira Scheindlin held that the Rikers Island jail could deny Henry his request in the interests of maintaining order and keeping costs reasonable.

“Providing individualized meals to a single inmate might well foster an impression of favoritism, which could lead to jealousy and resentment among the inmate population, which in turn could cause tension and threaten prison security,” she wrote.

“Similarly, providing individualized meals to one or several inmates would involve a substantial increase in administrative costs.”

Scheindlin noted that Henry already receives Kosher meals and is allowed to meet with a rabbi.

Not that Rikers Island is a paradise among jails; but – cultural niceties aren’t a special responsibility of our penal system. Access to education, basic healthcare, is sufficient. The rest is silence.

Fake prisoner of war claimed $464,000 in pension payments


Absent friends…

The former public face of Australian prisoners of war will spend Christmas behind bars after admitting his war service claim was a lie.

Arthur “Rex” Crane, 84, posed as a World War II veteran for 22 years and achieved a national profile as Australian president of the Ex-Prisoners of War Association until he was outed by a military historian who believed his story did not add up. During that time, Crane successfully claimed $464,409 in war pension and disability payments, which he was not entitled to receive.

He pleaded guilty in Brisbane’s District Court last month and was yesterday sentenced to four years in jail, of which he will serve six months.

The court heard Crane developed the false war story to fit in with actual veterans he was working alongside in a country pub in the 1960s. Within a few years, Crane had convinced everyone, from doctors to his own family.

Crane explained his lack of documentation by claiming he was a boy guerilla, conscripted by the British while living with his parents in Malaya in the 1940s.

He claimed he was then captured by the Japanese, tortured and sent to work on the notorious Thai-Burma Railway alongside 13,000 other Australian POWs.

But Crane’s story came undone during a speech to veterans last year when historian Lynette Silver found his story unbelievable. Within a month, the historian found documents showing Crane had been enrolled at an Adelaide school during his supposed imprisonment…

The historian yesterday said she was “astounded” the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to identify such a blatant fraud…

Crane has been ordered to repay the money, although it is unlikely the sum will ever be recovered.

This speaks volumes about acceptable lies, lies which qualify a fraud automatically as so deserving that no one ever checks to verify the tale.

An immigrant’s invisible life – and death – in America


Shahbaz Mughal, another cabdriver, brought Ahmad back to their home village for burial

When the 43-year-old man died in a New Jersey immigration jail in 2005, the very fact seemed to fall into a black hole. Although a fellow inmate scrawled a note telling immigrant advocates that the detainee’s symptoms of a heart attack had long gone unheeded, government officials would not even confirm that the dead man had existed.

In March, more than three years after the death, federal immigration authorities acknowledged that they had overlooked it, and added a name, “Ahmad, Tanveer,” to their list of fatalities in custody.

Even as the man’s death was retrieved from official oblivion, however, his life remained a mystery. The New York Times reported in an April article on the case that pointed up the secrecy and lack of accountability in the nation’s ballooning immigration detention system. But just who the man was and why he had been detained were unknown…

Tanveer Ahmad, it turns out, was a longtime New York City cabdriver who had paid thousands of dollars in taxes and immigration application fees. Whether out of love, loneliness or the quest for a green card, he had twice married American women after entering the country on a visitor’s visa in 1993. His only trouble with the law was a $200 fine for disorderly conduct in 1997: While working at a Houston gas station, he had displayed the business’s unlicensed gun to stop a robbery.

It would come back to haunt him. For if Mr. Ahmad’s overlooked death showed how immigrants could vanish in detention, his overlooked American life shows how 9/11 changed the stakes for those caught in the nation’s tangle of immigration laws.

In the end, his body went back in a box to his native village, to be buried by his Pakistani widow and their two children, conceived on his only two trips home in a dozen years. He had always hoped to bring them all to the United States, his widow, Rafia Perveen, said in a tearful telephone interview through a translator.

“He said America is very good,” she recalled. “When it comes to the treatment of Muslims in the U.S., he had faith in the rule of law. He said, ‘In America, they don’t bother anyone just for no reason.’ ”

RTFA. A long, sad, cautionary tale.

You have to wonder after a while if one of the essential qualifications for American federal bureaucracy – is bigotry. Followed by pigheadedness and ignorance. Obviously, a sense of fairness and justice would also only be an impediment.

Yes, it is possible to be an optimist even if I’m obviously a cynic.

Aboriginal prisoner was cooked to death in security van


Mr. Ward

A coroner has found that an Aboriginal man was “cooked to death” after he spent four hours in the back of a security van in searing heat with no air conditioning as it drove across the goldfields of south-west Australia.

The 46-year-old Aboriginal elder suffered third degree burns after collapsing in the heat and falling to the floor of the van while it travelled 250 miles from Laverton to Kalgoorlie in 117ºF heat.

Ward, whose first name cannot be used because of an Aboriginal cultural prohibition that forbids relatives from naming their dead, had been arrested a day earlier in January 2008 for drink driving.

He was given one pint of water before boarding the van but the coroner found he died before he could finish drinking it…

The West Australian coroner, Alistair Hope, found that Ward was effectively “cooked” to death and heavily criticised the state prisons department, the private security firm that operated the van and the two guards who escorted Ward.

“It is a disgrace that a prisoner in the 21st century, particularly a prisoner who has not been convicted of any crime, was transported for a long distance in high temperatures,” Hope said. The security guards, who did not check to see if he needed a toilet break, food or water, had breached their duty of care.

Little need to point out the racist traditions in Australia and the likelihood of the role that played in the mistreatment of this prisoner – leading to his death.

Next up? Whitewashing the penalties accorded the security guards.

U.S. military refuses to free Reuters photographer in Iraq – UPDATED

The U.S. military in Iraq is not obliged to obey an Iraqi court order to release a freelance photographer working for Reuters news agency and will hold him into 2009, said a spokesman.

The Iraqi Central Criminal Court ruled on November 30 that there was no evidence against Ibrahim Jassam Mohammed, and ordered the U.S. military to release him from Camp Cropper prison near Baghdad airport, where he has been detained since September.

“Though we appreciate the decision of the Central Criminal Court of Iraq in the Jassam case, their decision does not negate the intelligence information that currently lists him as a threat to Iraq security and stability,” said Major Neal Fisher, spokesman for the U.S. military’s detainee operations in Iraq.

“He will be processed for release in a safe and orderly manner after December 31st, in the order of his individual threat level, along with all other detainees,” Fisher said in an email to Reuters…

In the ruling issued by the Iraqi court at the end of last month, Iraqi prosecutors said they had asked the U.S. military repeatedly for the evidence it had against Jassam but that U.S. forces had failed to provide any material.

Fisher said that the U.S. military was “not bound” to provide military intelligence to Iraqi courts.

Doesn’t it warm the cockles of your heart to witness the process of bringing democracy to the Middle East – as managed by George W, Bush and the U.S. military?

There are over 15,000 people currently imprisoned by the United States – in Iraq. With no right to trial, no public testimony, no right to an attorney – all the crap that provoked our own uprising against British forces in 1775.

UPDATE: Jassam Mohamed finally released from US military jail.

Stand-up comedy course as prisoner rehab? WTF?

A stand-up comedy course for maximum security prisoners was branded “totally unacceptable” by the justice secretary, Jack Straw. The minister forced managers at Whitemoor prison to cancel the lessons immediately because funding them with taxpayers’ money could not be justified.

According to the Sun, course candidates included the al-Qaida terrorist Zia Ul Haq, who had plotted bomb attacks on London.

Straw said: “Prisons should be places of punishment and reform, and providing educational, training and constructive pursuits is an essential part of this. But the types of courses available – and the manner in which they are delivered – must be appropriate in every prison…”

Most inmates in UK prisons have access to educational courses. Many of these are designed to help inmates return to employment when they leave prison.

Comedy classes, which organisers say foster team work and communication skills, have been available since 1998.

Since 1998? So, no one noticed.

Does this mean officials in Britain don’t ever get out to comedy clubs? Or – more likely – none of the course graduates ever made anyone other than their cellmates larf?