Twenty years after the first terrorist attack on Manhattan's World Trade Center, the plot's ringleader, Ramzi Yousef, waits to hear if a federal judge in Denver will lift restrictions that keep him in round-the-clock solitary confinement.
Yousef, 45, has been confined in a small cell for almost 24 hours each day since 1996, a year or more before he began serving his life plus 240-years sentence inside ADX-Florence, or Supermax, the nation's most locked-down federal prison, according to his lawyer, Bernard Kleinman.
In a memo last October, U.S. District Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy of New York called Yousef "a cold-blooded killer, completely devoid of conscience."
The lawsuit says Yousef no longer poses such a threat that he couldn't be housed under normal prison security conditions.
"Ramzi Yousef is not some sort of 'MacGyver' able to fashion some incendiary device out of paper clips and chewing gum. He has neither the ability to walk on water nor is he some sort of alchemist who can fashion gold out of lead," Kleinman wrote.
His lawsuit, filed in Manhattan, was moved to U.S. District Court in Denver last year so it can be heard in the state where he is incarcerated.
The government has asked Judge Richard Matsch, who presided over the trial of Oklahoma City bombing defendants Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, to dismiss the case.
Ramzi was found guilty of the Feb. 26, 1993 bombing, which killed six and injured more than 1,000, in 1997.
He was later convicted of planting a bomb on Philippine Airlines Flight 434, causing an explosion that killed one passenger.
He is held under special administrative measures that keep him in solitary where prisoners spend their days in single cells that are typically 12-feet by 5-feet, and communications and contact with other inmates and staff are severely restricted.
A former warden at Supermax, where 439 prisoners are housed, reportedly called it "a clean version of hell."
Inmates live under tight-lockdown conditions, most confined to their cells up to 23 hours a day, but prisoners under SAMs have even more restrictions.
Personal phone calls are restricted to select family members and must be monitored.
Prison staff read their mail before it's delivered and guards step through a solid steel door into a sally-port to slide food through the bars of their cells.
In asking that the restrictions be lifted, Yousef complains of being shackled hand and foot whenever he is moved from his cell.
Nichols and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski are his neighbors in the complex, though communication between prisoners is limited to yelling to each other and talking into drain pipes.
The cells have a sliver of window that "fronts on a wall to block the views," said Ed Aro, a lawyer who is suing on behalf of other inmates at the facility. "The most they can hope for is to push their faces up against the glass and see the sky. A lot of them do that to watch owls and other birds."
The isolation is extreme and even those who arrive free of psychological problems can grow paranoid and delusional as a result, Aro said.
Yousef wants to be moved to an open prison environment where inmates are allowed outside their cells for no less than 14 hours a day, he said in an inmate request to former Florence warden Blake Davis.
He wants contact visits, and the right to speak with other inmates. He also seeks the "right to write books and to engage in whatever communications with others may be necessary in order to have such books published."
The U.S. attorney general has "determined there is a substantial risk your communications or contacts with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury to persons, or substantial damage to property that would entail the risk of death," Davis wrote in a response to Yousef included in the lawsuit.