Ramzi Yousef, inmate No. 03911 at a federal “supermax” penitentiary, is serving life with no parole plus 240 years in a 7-by-11-foot cell with no bars and one small high window, far from other inmates, prison staff and the world beyond the fortress deep in the Colorado Rockies.
He has been there for 15 years, in nearly 24-hour solitary confinement at the prison they call the “Fortress in the Rockies.” Even his meals provide little relief, with the food trays shoved by unseen guards through a sally port between two steel doors. The only other inmate within shouting range has killed others in prison.
Yousef, now 44, knows he will never go free. An avowed terrorist convicted in the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing, he killed six people and injured more than 1,000. But in a lawsuit, he is trying to persuade a federal judge to at least release him from solitary confinement. The judge is expected to rule soon whether the suit will go to trial.
Despite his good behavior, Yousef says, he is being kept isolated because he is a convicted terrorist, something he can never change — and that, he argues, is a violation of his due process of law.
“I request an immediate end to my solitary confinement and ask to be in a unit in an open prison environment where inmates are allowed outside their cells for no less than 14 hours a day,” he wrote the warden, according to confidential government records obtained by The Times. “I have been in solitary confinement in the U.S. since Feb. 8, 1995, with no end in sight…. I further ask not to be in handcuffs or leg irons when moved outside my cell.”
The suit says that long-term solitary confinement leaves him “no hope or prospect of any remedial condition” and that it has led to “severe psychological trauma.” His lawyer, Bernard V. Kleinman, said in an interview that Yousef already “demonstrates a degree of paranoia and a degree of fear that would not be normal or expected if he was in the general population or had more contact with other inmates.”
The prison warden maintains that Yousef is still a serious security threat, but some outside experts agree with Yousef that his treatment is unconstitutional.
Colin Dayan, a humanities professor at Vanderbilt University who has studied solitary confinement in Arizona, said many prison administrations use isolation without regard to psychological damage to inmates.