A view into Moussaoui's very restricted prison world

This is what Zacarias Moussaoui is forbidden to possess: a comb, a pencil, a ballpoint pen, hot tea, and hot coffee.

All are listed as potential terrorist weapons under high-security rules adopted at the federal detention facility in Alexandria, Va., where Mr. Moussaoui is being housed. Regulations also ban possession of "condiments or spices of any kind."

Apparently taking no chances, the government's attention to minute detail in its security vacuum around the self-proclaimed Al Qaeda operative is a testament to its imagination.

In applying so-called "special administrative measures" to Moussaoui, Attorney General John Ashcroft wants to make doubly sure the alleged "20th hijacker" is given no opportunity during pretrial detention to help wage jihad in the US. Critics call the special security provisions overkill, saying they threaten Moussaoui's ability to serve as his own defense lawyer and receive a fair trial in accordance with the US Constitution.

Supporters say the US is at war, and prevention of future attacks takes precedence over the luxury of civil liberties.

"Some of it is fairly standard for any prison or jail," says David Fathi of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. But he says security provisions that limit Moussaoui's access to legal advice and bar any contact with the news media are far harsher than routine prison regulations.

"Usually prisoners are allowed to meet with and talk to whomever they want," says Mr. Fathi. "This is someone who has not yet been tried. He is presumed innocent," he says.

Cell life as sketched by rules

Details of the Moussaoui restrictions are trickling out, offering a rough sketch of life in high-security detention.

There are no bars in Moussaoui's solitary-confinement cell. It is just a small room with a steel toilet, steel sink, and a concrete platform with a mattress. The only view is through the food slot or tiny window in the door. There is no television and no radio. Moussaoui spends 22 hours every day in a cell that is normally reserved for prisoners who are being punished. (He leaves his cell for showering and exercising, which account for the other two hours in a day.)

Moussaoui's mother, Aicha El-Wafi, sees the issue of security restrictions on a more personal level. She says barring her son from virtually all access to the outside world for almost a year has taken a serious toll on his mental health. "She feels the conditions of his confinement have caused significant mental deterioration," says Randall Hamud, a San Diego lawyer hired by Mrs. El-Wafi.

But some experts point out that special restrictions are sometimes imposed precisely because of concerns about a prisoner's mental health, and the restrictions are meant to protect the prisoner's well-being. Each case "depends on the circumstances," says Michael O'Neill, a former assistant US attorney, who notes that terror suspects like Moussaoui fall into a different category from other criminal defendants. "It's not uncommon for the government to take steps," adds Mr. O'Neill, an associate law professor at George Mason University in Arlington, Va.

Indeed, special security measures have been used in terrorism and espionage cases for many years. They are aimed at completely isolating an individual to prevent use of secret codes to communicate with others outside prison who may conduct future terror attacks. In addition, they are designed to protect against the unauthorized release of classified information known to the defendant or that may have been revealed during trial preparation.

In Moussaoui's case, he is barred from communicating with anyone other than his immediate family or an "attorney of record" precleared by federal prosecutors.

Conversations with the attorney of record must be solely about legal issues, according to the special rules. In contrast, conversations with his immediate family members may not touch on legal issues.

Telephone calls are particularly problematic: The rules require that no phone conversation of Moussaoui's is to be overheard by or repeated to a third party. All personal calls involving Moussaoui are to be monitored, recorded, and analyzed by intelligence officials for possible code words, according to the restrictions.

Immediate family members are permitted to visit him at the detention facility, but only his mother, who lives in southern France, has made such a visit. "When she meets with her son, all conversations are recorded, and an FBI agent is present," says Mr. Hamud.

The concern isn't just about the use of code words. "All such meetings shall be noncontact [participants are separated by plexiglass and talk by phone] to protect against harm to visitors and staff should the inmate attempt to take hostages," the rules say. And any Muslim prayer leader, or imam, brought into the facility to pray with Moussaoui may never be left alone with him – and cannot have a conversation with him. "The prayer shall be conducted as part of a noncontact visit," the rules say, "to prevent the imam from being harmed or taken hostage."

Even telephone and other conversations Moussaoui has with a lawyer about his coming trial may be monitored and recorded. In an acknowledgement of the attorney-client privilege to confidential discussions, the rules call for the creation of a "firewall" to separate the agents monitoring any attorney-client conversations from the agents and prosecutors working on the criminal case against Moussaoui.

In addition, the rules permit federal agents to install microphones in the hallway outside Moussaoui's cell to make sure he doesn't try to talk to inmates or guards.

Decoding mail

Mail is seen as a potential treasure trove in the rules. Any mail to or from Moussaoui (other than trial-related correspondence) is copied and forwarded to the FBI for analysis. Rules allow mail to be held "for decoding" up to 30 days where there's "reasonable suspicion to believe that a code was used."

Not everyone agrees with the government's concern that Moussaoui might attempt to send coded information to Al Qaeda. "I am highly skeptical of the claim that there may be secret messages," says Ingrid Mattson, a professor of Islamic Studies at Hartford Seminary. "Given how long he has been in jail, what could he say other than go blow something up?"

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