Their cells are 6 feet by 10 feet in the "secure housing" block at Terminal Island federal prison. In cells Nos. 2, 3 and 4, two to a cell, are six Arab immigrants accused of being members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
In their first conversation with a reporter since they were arrested Jan. 26, two of the inmates charged Wednesday that the government was denying them basic amenities such as medical treatment, routine visits from relatives, cigarettes and newspapers.
But Warden Richard H. Rison said their charges were baseless and underscored that the six "are being treated like every other inmate in that unit." He added that the six have been warned that if they do not "stop yelling" for their rights, disrupting the cell block, he will place them in solitary confinement.
"They're playing psychological war on us," Khader Musa Hamide, 32, of Glendale, alleged leader of the California Popular Front, said through a small cell door window.
Hamide charged that guards have made "all kinds of racial slurs," that "we cannot read a newspaper," that "our relatives were turned back" by prison officials when they attempted to visit them and that they have had to wear chains securing their wrists behind their backs when they see visitors.
"They are trying to intimidate us," said Michel Ibrahim Nasif Shehadeh, 30, of Long Beach.
The two men, who talked briefly to a reporter under federal ground rules that precluded any questions, echoed recent complaints of their attorneys before a federal immigration judge.
Rison, who has run the federal prison for three years, said Immigration and Naturalization Service officials warned him that the six were alleged "terrorists (and) could be considered dangerous." Hence, he said, they were placed in the maximum security section.
In an interview in his office, Rison said medical assistance is readily available, visitors are allowed three days a week, cigarettes are available if paid for through a commissary account, and that guards would be fired if they made racial slurs.
Moreover, he added, following a conference this week with John Haggar, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney on their legal defense team, he has eliminated the chain restraints during visits. "It's a judgment call," he said.
Federal prison standards call for only one inmate in such small quarters, Rison said, but "we're overcrowded." He added, however, that "I don't think the space is so confining that they're being deprived."
All six inmates, being held without bond and awaiting a deportation hearing, have denied any association with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, according to their lawyers. Along with Hamide and Shehadeh, the six accused include Aiad Khaled Barakat, 26, of Glendale; Amjad Mustafa Obeid, 23, of Long Beach; Obeid's brother, Ayman, 24, and Naim Nadim Sharif, 26, of Northridge.