The federal government's most secure prison has determined that two books written by President Barack Obama contain material "potentially detrimental to national security" and rejected an inmate's request to read them.
Ahmed Omar Abu Ali is serving a 30-year sentence at the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colo., for joining al-Qaida and plotting to assassinate then-President George W. Bush. Last year, Abu Ali requested two books written by Obama: "Dreams from My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope."
But prison officials, citing guidance from the FBI, determined that passages in both books contain information that could damage national security.
A prison spokeswoman referred questions to the FBI, where a spokeswoman was looking into the matter Thursday evening.
The documents detailing the prison's 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, Dratel wrote.
Prison officials cite specific pages — but not specific passages — in the books that they deem objectionable. They include 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 are 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.