From The Intercept:
Mohammed Yousry never imagined that he would see the inside of a jail cell. An adjunct lecturer at the City University of New York, Yousry was completing his doctoral dissertation in Middle Eastern Studies when a series of events upended his quiet academic life.
In 1993, Yousry received a job offer to work as an Arabic translator for the defense team of Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as the “Blind Sheikh.” Abdel Rahman, the spiritual leader of the Egyptian militant group Gamaa Islamiya, had been arrested earlier that year on accusations of plotting terrorist attacks against public landmarks in New York City.
In 1997, the Federal Bureau of Prisons placed Abdel Rahman under “special administrative measures,” or SAMs, a legal regimen that restricts certain prisoners from communicating with the outside world.
First established 20 years ago, in May 1996, SAMs were designed to prevent alleged gang leaders and terrorists from maintaining contact with their followers outside prison. In the years since 9/11, the controversial measures have been used extensively in terrorism cases. A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch found that the number of prison inmates subjected to SAMs more than tripled between 2001 and 2013. As of 2013, a total of 55 prisoners were held under SAMs; roughly 30 were “terrorism-related inmates,” while the remainder were mostly inmates jailed on organized crime and espionage charges.
“The premise behind SAMs is that there is a certain class of prisoner so dangerous that even solitary isn’t enough. They need to be kept so under wraps that a special regime is necessary where their communication with the outside world is completely shut down,” says Wadie Said, a law professor at the University of South Carolina and expert on terrorism prosecutions. “The problem with these types of extraordinary measures, however, is that when you start putting them in the hands of government bureaucrats, the rationale starts to break down and they are enforced more liberally.”
That is precisely what happened to Yousry. Lynne Stewart, the defense team’s lead attorney in the Abdel Rahman case, was charged with violating the SAMs by disseminating her client’s political statements to the media and surrogates of a terrorist group. But in an unprecedented move, the government also decided to prosecute the legal team’s translator, who had never signed the SAMs order.
Yousry suddenly found himself accused of supporting a terrorist. He and several others involved in Abdel Rahman’s defense are the only people ever to have been prosecuted by the federal government for violating the SAMs.
Mohammed Yousry was born in 1955 in Cairo, Egypt. At a young age, Yousry developed what would be a lifelong infatuation with studying, spending hours immersed in books by Arab, American, and European writers. After graduating from Cairo University and completing his compulsory military service, at 24, he immigrated to the United States, eventually settling in…