Pre-Trial/Prison Conditions and Special Housing Unit (SHU)

“Solitary confinement as a punishment is closer to a form of torture, with serious consequences for neurological health.” – Dr. Elena Blanco-Suarez

Pre-Trial/Prison Conditions

After Abdulrahman was arrested, he was placed in the Special Housing Unit (SHU). He did not receive his medication (Olanzapine/Zyprexa) until approximately 10 days after his arrest. He reported to his team that he felt suicidal had attempted to hang himself and overdose on Tylenol.

For over a year Abdulrahman was held in the SHU in the US prison. After being placed in general population for less than a day because prison officials were looking for more information about his case, his inmate personal access code was stolen by an inmate. During this period in solitary confinement, his mental health disorder escalated as he was denied the proper medicine and medical attention. To illustrate, he was experiencing hallucinations in his cell. In 2017 he was allowed to move into the general population, where he obtained Suboxone, a prescription medication used to treat drug addiction. He took the drug and relapsed. Abdulrahman admitted to prison officials and complied with all the drug tests because he knew what he did was wrong and wanted to break this addiction. His regular and functioning medication was switched to a different one when he made this decision. As punishment, jail authorities cut off his family visits for 18 months and placed him in solitary confinement.

Abdulrahman’s detention in the New York prison was harsh with abusive conditions. This included prolonged solitary confinement and severe restrictions on communicating with his family and legal counsel,  impeding his ability to assist in his defense and contributing to his decision to plead guilty. As a result, he tried to commit suicide on two separate occasions.

Clinical opinion on not allowing family visitation for 18 months after Abdulrahman had admitted to drug use (given by an inmate in general population) at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC):

“In my clinical opinion, not allowing family visitation is deleterious to Abdulrahman’s mental health… His increased symptoms of anxiety and depression have impaired Abdulrahman’s ability to make important decisions in his case.”

Katherine Porterfield

Senior Psychologist , Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture

The day after his first visit with federal defenders and without any notice to the public, his family, or his private lawyers, this vulnerable youth was persuaded to enter a guilty plea to seven capital offences. Later in the afternoon, he was brought before the trial judge who accepted his guilty plea after asking a few cursory questions. No effort was made to ensure Abdulrahman was mentally fit to make an informed decision by way of a psychiatric assessment.

What is a Special Housing Unit?

According to the American Friends Service Committee, solitary confinement usually entails (although different in all states):


  • Confinement behind a solid steel door for 22 to 24 hours a day
  • Severely limited contact with other human beings
  • Infrequent phone calls and rare non-contact family visits
  • Extremely limited access to rehabilitative or educational programming
  • Grossly inadequate medical and mental health treatment
  • Restricted reading material and personal property
  • Physical torture such as hog-tying, restraint chairs, forced cell extraction
  • “No-touch torture,” such as sensory deprivation, permanent bright lighting, extreme temperatures, and forced insomnia
  • Chemical torture, such as stun grenades and stun guns
  • Sexual intimidation and other forms of brutality and humiliation

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"What makes this story even more disturbing is that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) knowingly participated in this sting with the FBI. They unlawfully obtained Abdulrahman’s medical records that described his mental health vulnerabilities and provided them to the FBI to better manipulate this damaged youth.

This raises serious human rights concerns of discriminatory investigations, targeting vulnerable youths such as Abdulrahman, who had no previous history of violence or criminality, until drawn in by a U.S. government actively involved in developing the plot, persuading and pressuring the target to participate."

Dennis Edney

Canadian Defence lawyer