Over thirteen years after being captured in Afghanistan, John Walker Lindh, otherwise known as Detainee #001 in the Global War on Terror, is waging a very different sort of battle: a legal campaign to wear his pants above the ankle.
Lindh, 33, filed Dec. 29 for class action status for all Muslim inmates in the Bureau of Prisons system, requesting that they be allowed to shorten their prison pants. Lindh, who first filed suit on the issue in May 2014, claims “it is a clear tenet of Islam that Muslim men are prohibited from wearing pants below their ankles” and that a Bureau of Prisons policy that “Islamic inmates may not hem or wear their pants above the ankle” violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
After being captured in Afghanistan in December 2001, Lindh–who was photographed naked and strapped to a stretcher by U.S. military personnel–was labeled the “American Taliban.” He pleaded guilty to aiding the Taliban, and is currently housed at the Bureau of Prisons’ Communication Management Unit (CMU) in Terre Haute, Indiana.
The pants lawsuit highlights the unique role of the CMUs, which were first created in 2006 to house prisoners whose communications are subject to strict monitoring; when it opened, 15 of the first 17 inmates were Muslim and as the population grew, the CMUs became known by some people as Guantanamo North. CMU inmates now include Muslims convicted on terrorism charges and non-Muslims who have conducted activities involving illegal contraband or communicating threats while in other federal facilities (a second CMU is at the Bureau of Prisons facility at Marion, Illinois).
Last week’s filing included the declarations of 45 inmates in facilities across the United States; they signed on to Lindh’s claim that the policy denying shorter pants violates religious laws. One inmate said that he needed to shorten his pants, because Islamic teachings dictate “everything below the ankles is in Hellfire.”
A Bureau of Prisons imam responded in September 2014, arguing that there is no uniformity of opinion or practice in Muslim jurisprudence regarding this claim. “While it may be the religious personal preference for some followers of a particular school or methods to wear their pants above the ankle, it is not possible for a single Muslim to state that his personal preference or viewpoint represents the sincere beliefs, preferences, or positions of all Islamic inmates in the Bureau of Prisons,” the chaplain wrote in a declaration to the court.
This isn’t the first class action suit Lindh has filed; in December, Lindh, who now calls himself Yahya Lindh in court filings, obtained class action status for the current 48 CMU prisoners in an ongoing lawsuit challenging inmate strip searches before non-contact visits. Lindh claims these searches are unreasonable and violate the Fourth Amendment.
Lindh, who is currently serving a 20-year sentence, will be eligible for release in May 2019.
Photo: Alexandria County Sheriff’s Department/AP