The downtown Manhattan jail housing notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman was once described by an inmate as having worse conditions than Guantanamo Bay, according to a declassified report.
Guzman, who’s commonly known as “El Chapo,” was taken to the Metropolitan Correctional Center after being arraigned on a laundry list of murder and drug trafficking charges in Brooklyn Federal court on Friday afternoon.
The violent Sinaloa cartel kingpin arrived in the U.S. after being extradited from Mexico, where he had successfully escaped two high-security prisons.
Escaping the rust-colored MCC, however, will prove hard for Guzman, who’s most likely being held in the jail’s infamous 10 South wing — a high-security section housing the most dangerous inmates in complete solitary confinement.
Ahmed Ghailani, a Tanzanian native serving a life sentence for his role in bombing two American embassies in East Africa in 1998, told a psychiatrist that he found the Guantanamo Bay detention camp “more pleasant” and “more relaxed” than the MCC, according to a forensic evaluation report obtained by the Daily News.
“While (at Guantanamo), he was able to recreate with others, to access DVD’s and in general felt that the atmosphere provided more freedom to detainees,” Virginia University psychiatry professor Gregory Saathoff wrote in the report, which was based on several long conversations with Ghailani in 2010.
While at the MCC, however, Ghailani complained that he was never allowed to interact with other inmates, with the only human interaction being frequent strip searches performed by guards.
Nonetheless, Ghailani, who spent over two years at the MCC, said he found the civil legal process in the U.S. “more fair” than the military justice system he was subjected to at the military prison in Cuba.
“When I was at Gitmo, they were able to use hearsay evidence,” he told Saathoff. “Here, they have constitutional rights…The rules at Gitmo favor the government. Here they are more fair.”
After his sentencing, Ghailani was transferred to a maximum security prison in Colorado, where he remains to this day.
The MCC, which opened in 1975 and is wedged between the Church of St. Andrew and the Manhattan Federal courthouse, has also held criminals such as Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who spearheaded the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Bernard Madoff, who pulled off the largest financial fraud in U.S. history. The jail holds roughly 800 inmates and is notorious for its stringent security measures.
Uzair Paracha, a Pakistani American who was held at the MCC for two years after providing material support to Al Qaeda, said in a published account that it was common for inmates to partially lose their eyesight because the jail’s lights were kept on 23 or 24 hours a day.
The jail’s frosted glass windows shut out all view of the world outside, and the slot on each cell door was generally kept shut at all times, according to Paracha, who was interviewed for the 2016 book “Hell Is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement.”
It remains unknown whether Guzman will be kept at the MCC while his case awaits trial in Brooklyn. Many inmates facing federal charges in the city are held at a larger jail in Sunset Park, but some are kept at the MCC, which is where Guzman was admitted after his arraignment.
David Patton, one of the cartel leader’s legal representatives, told the New York Times in an email Monday that the MCC’s solitary confinement units are “horrifying and inhumane.”
“If you wanted to intentionally design a place to drive people mad, you’d be hard pressed to do better,” Patton, the executive director of Federal Defenders of New York, told the newspaper. “The fluorescent lights are always on…The only sound is the occasional clanking of metal when doors are opened and closed.”
On any given day, more than 80,000 U.S. inmates are kept in solitary confinement, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Last January, former President Barack Obama ripped the practice as counterproductive after issuing an executive order to reduce its use.
"How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people?" Obama wrote in an editorial published in the Washington Post. "It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity."
President Trump, on the other hand, has signaled that he might revoke Obama's executive order, frequently speaking in favor of the death penalty and labeling himself the "law and order candidate."
Re: Manhattan jail housing Mexican drug lord 'El Chapo' is reportedly worse than Guantanamo Bay
I walk through the corridor that connects this jail to the Police headquarters and the Supreme Court plaza all the time. One afternoon I saw a woman lifting up her shirt exposing her breasts down there looking up at one of the cells, I looked up and saw the shape of a mans head looking down from one of the tiny windows.