SEATTLE – Supporters of an American Muslim charged with trying to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon demanded his release Wednesday, saying the government has offered no reason for keeping him in "appalling" conditions at a federal jail.
James Ujaama, a U.S. citizen who recently lived in London, has been kept in solitary confinement at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, south of Seattle. He has been barred from contacting his mother and the rest of his family and has been granted just one phone call to his lawyers in the past two weeks.
There has been so much secrecy surrounding his case that officials at the Federal Detention Center routinely say they have no public record of him. Even his lawyers were told that, they say.
"We were told that he wasn't there," Seattle lawyer Peter Offenbecher said Wednesday. "And it's certainly true that he has not been able to call or visit with his family."
Eventually, jail officials granted Offenbecher and co-counsel Bob Mahler permission to meet with Ujaama, and they have met with him several times since, Offenbecher said.
Still, Ujaama's family and friends are furious. They called a news conference Wednesday on the steps of the federal courthouse in downtown Seattle. Ujaama is scheduled for a detention hearing at the courthouse next Tuesday.
"What threat does the government feel that I am, that I present, that they deny me the right to meet with my son?" asked Ujaama's mother, Carolyn Peggi Thompson.
She said she received a letter from him on Saturday saying that he was in good spirits.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle declined to comment, and Russell Heisner, a spokesman for the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, refused to discuss Ujaama's conditions there. Similarly, a federal Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said she had no record of anyone named Ujaama.
A U.S. Marshals spokesman in Seattle was the only government official to confirm Ujaama, 36, is being held in SeaTac.
Authorities arrested Ujaama on July 22 in Denver and held him as a material witness. On Aug. 29, a grand jury in Seattle indicted him on one count of conspiracy to provide material support for the Al Qaeda terrorist network and another count of using, carrying, possessing and discharging firearms during a crime.
Ujaama has pleaded innocent to the charges.
The indictment says a cooperating witness described a conspiracy in which Ujaama tried to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore. The Justice Department has offered little in the way of evidence, except to say that investigators seized booklets on Islam and "jihad" -- holy war -- from the Denver home where he was staying.