- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Bush administration urged the Supreme Court yesterday to bar a Muslim inmate from suing prison officials who confiscated his prayer rug and two copies of the Koran.

The inmate should be limited to filing an administrative complaint as thousands of other prisoners do every year for a variety of claims, a Justice Department lawyer told the court.

The government laid out its position regarding a lawsuit by convicted murderer Abdus-Shahid M.S. Ali, who said Muslim prisoners around the country are regularly mistreated by their jailers because of their religious faith.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Antonin Scalia expressed doubts over the inmate’s claim of having a right to sue, while Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer suggested they are skeptical of the government’s position.

“There is no court remedy?” asked Justice Ginsburg.

No, but under the administrative process, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has paid compensation for more than a thousand inmate claims in the last three years, Assistant Solicitor General Kannon Shanmugam replied.

Ali said the rug and books are among the personal items that have been missing since 2003, when he was moved from a federal penitentiary in Atlanta to a facility at Inez, Ky.

Muslim inmates have been subjected to “very hard times and bad treatment” at the hands of federal, state and local prison employees because of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Ali said in court papers.

Ali is serving a sentence of 20 years to life in prison for a first-degree murder in the District.

It seems as though “the many prison employees think that they can hurt you best taking your personally owned property,” Ali wrote.

Ali added that because he has “practiced his faith to the fullest,” he has been subjected to prison officials repeatedly confiscating and destroying his legal and religious property.

He said he has been harassed for his religious beliefs “year after year” in both the D.C. Department of Corrections and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Ali also argued that items he turned over to prison officers in Atlanta for shipment never arrived at Inez.

In the Supreme Court, the question is whether federal prison officials qualify as law enforcement officers under the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946 and are therefore exempt from suit. The statute bars liability claims against customs and excise officers or “any other law enforcement officer” involved in detaining property. Two lower federal courts ruled against Ali.

Besides the prayer rug and two copies of the Koran, Ali said he is missing stamps and other personal items worth $177 that he said weren’t sent along to Big Sandy penitentiary in Kentucky.

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