McLEAN, Va. — The Bureau of Prisons says it reversed course months ago to allow some of the country's most dangerous prisoners to read two books written by President Barack Obama.
Court papers filed Thursday show that prison officials twice rejected requests by inmate Ahmed Omar Abu Ali to read "Dreams from my Father" and "The Audacity of Hope."
The books contained material "potentially detrimental to national security," prison officials said in two separate rejections from August and September.
On Friday, bureau spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said the bureau reversed course in November and let him read the books.
Abu Ali is serving 30 years in the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colo., for joining al-Qaida and plotting to assassinate then-President George W. Bush.
Documents detailing the prison's initial rejection of Obama's books are included in court papers for a resentencing hearing scheduled later this month for Abu Ali, a U.S. citizen.
The rejection is just one indication of the harsh conditions imposed on inmates at the supermax prison, according to Abu Ali's lawyer, Joshua Dratel.
"Imagine an existence controlled by characters created by Louis (sic) Carroll, and that would approach that which Mr. Abu Ali faces each day for the duration of his sentence," Dratel wrote.
Abu Ali requested the books in August, before Obama was elected. In a short, handwritten note on a prison complaint form, Abu Ali argues that the two rejections "violate my 1st amend. rights" — referring to the part of the U.S. Constitution that promises free speech among other rights.
The rejections, as well as other restrictions on family visits, prompted a hunger strike by Abu Ali that has since ended, his attorney, Joshua Dratel wrote at the time.
Prison officials cited specific pages — but not specific passages — in the books that they deemed objectionable. They included one page in Obama's 1995 book, "Dreams from My Father," and 22 separate pages in his policy-oriented 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope." It was not immediately obvious what passages might have been deemed problematic, though nearly half of the pages cited were in a chapter devoted to foreign affairs.
Supermax inmates, including convicted Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski, are housed under the most severe restrictions in the federal prison system. Inmates typically are kept in their cells in solitary confinement 22 or 23 hours a day.
Abu Ali will be resentenced July 27, following an appellate court ruling that U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee improperly deviated from sentencing guidelines that recommended a term of life in prison.
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