Monday, April 05, 2010

The Ongoing Torture of Syed Fahad Hashmi April 5, 2010

Not Just Guantánamo


Today in New York City, the U.S. is torturing a
Muslim detainee with no prior criminal record
who has not even gone to trial.

For the last almost three years, Syed Fahad
Hashmi has been kept in total pre-trial isolation
inside in a small cell under 24 hour video and
audio surveillance. He is forced to use the
bathroom and shower in full view of the
video. He has not seen the sun in years. He
takes his meals alone in his cell. He cannot see
any other detainees and he is not allowed to
communicate in any way with any prisoners. He
cannot write letters to friends and he cannot
make calls to anyone but his lawyer. He is
prohibited from participating in group
prayer. He gets newspapers that are 30 days old
with sections cut out by the government. One
hour a day he is taken into another confined room
where he is also kept in total isolation.

Children are taught that the U.S. Constitution
protects people accused of crimes. No one is to
be punished unless their guilt or innocence has
been decided in a fair trial. Until trial,
people are entitled to the presumption of
innocence. They are entitled to be defended by
an attorney of their choice. And the Eighth
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

The punishment of Mr. Hashmi has been going on
for years while he has been waiting for
trial. In addition to the punitive isolation he
is subjected to today, he was denied the attorney
of his choice. He was allowed only counsel
investigated and pre-approved by the
government. He is not allowed to look at any
translated documents unless the translator is
pre-approved by the government. He is not allowed
any contact with the media at all. One member of
his family can visit through the heavy screen for
one hour every other week unless the government
takes away those visits to further punish
him. The government took away his family visits
for 90 days when he was observed shadow boxing in
his cell and talked back to the guard who asked what he was doing.

If the Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual
punishment, what is the impact of forced
isolation? Medical testimony presented in his
case in federal court concluded that after 60
days in solitary people’s mental state begins to
break down. That means a person will start to
experience panic, anxiety, confusion, headaches,
heart palpitations, sleep problems, withdrawal,
anger, depression, despair, and
over-sensitivity. Over time this can lead to
severe psychiatric trauma and harms like
psychosis, distortion of reality, hallucinations,
mass anxiety and acute confusion. Essentially, the mind disintegrates.

That is why, under international standards for
human rights, extended isolation is considered a
form of torture and is banned. The conditions and
practices of isolation are in violation of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.N.
Convention against Torture, and the U.N.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

In 1995, the U.N. Human Rights Committee stated
that isolation conditions in certain U.S. maximum
security prisons were incompatible with
international standards. In 1996, the U.N.
special rapporteur on torture reported on cruel,
inhuman, and degrading treatment in U.S. supermax
prisons. In 2000, the U.N. Committee on Torture
roundly condemned the United States for its
treatment of prisoners, citing supermax prisons.
In May 2006, the same committee concluded that
the United States should “review the regimen
imposed on detainees in supermax prisons, in
particular, the practice of prolonged isolation.”

John McCain said his two years in solitary
confinement were torture. “It crushes your spirit
and weakens your resistance effectively than any
other form of mistreatment.” The reaction of
McCain and many other victims of isolation
torture were described in a 2009 New Yorker
article on isolation by Atul Gawande. Gawande
concluded that prolonged isolation is objectively
horrifying, intrinsically cruel, and more
widespread in the U.S. than any country in the world.

Who is this man? Syed Fahad Hashmi grew up in
Queens and attended Brooklyn College. He became
an outspoken Muslim activist. He moved to London
and received a master’s degree in international relations there.

Yet the federal judge hearing his case continues
to approve of the forced isolation and the rest
of the restrictions on this presumably innocent man.

The reason that this is allowed to continue is
that Hashmi is accused of being involved with al Qaeda.

Mr. Hashmi is accused of helping al Qaeda by
allowing rain gear (raincoats, ponchos and socks)
that were going to Afghanistan to be stored in
his Queens apartment, he allowed his cell phone
to be used to contact al Qaeda supporters and he
made post-arrest threatening statements.

Supporters of Fahad have demonstrated outside his
jail, set up a website – and
have worked for years to alert the public to his
torture. Articles by Amy Goodman, Chris Hedges
and Jeanne Theoharris have been written over the
past several years documenting and protesting these human rights violations.

But, once accused of connections with terrorism
or al Qaeda, apparently, the U.S. constitution
and international human rights apparently do not
apply. Torture by the U.S. is
allowed. Pre-trial punishment is allowed. The
presumption of innocence goes out the
window. Counsel of choice is not allowed.
Communication with news media not allowed.

The trial of Syed Fahad Hashmi is set for April
28, 2010 in New York. Till then he will continue
to be tortured by the U.S. government whose star
spangled banner proclaims it to be the land of
the free and the home of the brave.

Bill Quigley is legal director of the Center for
Constitutional Rights and a law professor at
Loyola University New Orleans. He can be
contacted at

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