Mexican kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has spent just seven weeks in custody in the US, but his lawyers say the isolation he's been kept in here, coupled with the harsh treatment he received in Mexico over the previous year, have been deleterious for his health.
In a 24-page filing submitted to the judge in the Eastern District of New York on Monday, Guzman's legal representatives asked the court to modify or remove the special administrative measures in place against their client.
Guzman's current lawyers said he had been relegated to his cell for the vast majority of the day and that requests to change the conditions inside the cell or have outside contact had received no response.
According to their letter:
"Mr. Guzman is confined to a small, windowless cell. He remains in this cell alone for 23 hours a day Mondays through Fridays, when he is permitted a single hour of solitary exercise in another cell that contains one treadmill and one stationary bicycle. On the weekends, he is confined 24 hours a day and not permitted any exercise. His meals are passed through a slot in the door; he eats alone."
"The light is always on. With erratic air-conditioning, he has often lacked enough warm clothing to avoid shivering. Repeated requests by counsel to the MCC adjust the temperature have landed on deaf ears. He never goes outside. His only opportunity to see daylight is when he passes a small window on the way to his counsel visit or the exercise cell."
Building on arguments made by Guzman's lawyers when was held in Mexico, Guzman's US attorneys said his confinement in the US, which they say is "far more extreme" than conditions in Mexico, had caused him both mental and physical distress.
"As a result, Mr. Guzman’s physical and mental health have deteriorated further since his arrival in the United States," they write. "He has difficulty breathing and suffers from a sore throat and headaches. He has recently been experiencing auditory hallucinations, complaining of hearing music in his cell even when the radio is turned off."
Guzman's current lawyers are both public defenders.
US prosecutors have asked the court to "make a strenuous inquiry into whether the defendant is financially unable to afford counsel" in order to prevent taxpayers from "needlessly" paying for the defense of man reputed to be worth billions. (The US government is also seeking a $14 billion criminal forfeiture against Guzman.)
But, Guzman's lawyers wrote in the letter, "Since his arrival in this district, Mr. Guzman has had no contact with his wife, family, or Mexican legal team" because of restrictions imposed by the special administrative measures.
They requested Guzman be able to speak to his wife, either by phone or in person, or with private attorneys in order to arrange funds for his own defense.
Guzman's lawyers cited the a decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Human Rights Watch, and congressional testimony to underscore the dangers of solitary confinement and bolster their argument to release him from it.
Mexico's Attorney General's Office/Handout via REUTERS
Guzman's US lawyers also argued that the reason for strict conditions Mexico — the possibility Guzman could corrupt prison officials to aid another escape — doesn't exist while he's in US custody.
"Given the acknowledged widespread corruption in the Mexican prison system, Mr. Guzman’s alleged escape from custody while in prison there provides no basis for fearing that there is a danger that he will escape from BOP custody," they write.
"Thus, the government’s underlying allegations fail to support its position that Mr. Guzman poses a danger of escape from American custody."
This is not the first time that Guzman's lawyers have claimed he was being mistreated in jail. While he was still being held in Mexico, his lawyers said he was facing torturous conditions.
One of his Mexican lawyers even said that Guzman had told him security measures in a Mexican prison were "turning me into a zombie."
His US lawyers have previously raised his prison conditions to a judge in the US. During a February 3 hearing, they complained about them to judge Brian Cogan, who is overseeing the case. At that time, he declined to act to change them, saying it was up to the jail.