Sunday, April 25, 2010

Torture goes on in New York City

Next week, a U.S. citizen named Syed Fahad Hashmi will go on trialin a federal court in New York City, accused of assisting al-Qaeda by allowing rain gear meant for shipment to Afghanistan to be stored in his Queens apartment and also of generally supporting violent Muslim extremists. He has not yet been convicted of anything (guilt or innocence has not been determined)-- yet our government has been torturing him for three years in a Manhattan cell.

According to Bill Quigley, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, writing in the Huffington Post:

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.

This complete isolation is torture.

John McCain said so, after the North Vietnamese kept him in isolation for 2 years. Reporter Terry Anderson, who survived seven years as a hostage of held by anti-U.S. fighters in Lebanon in the 1980s also says isolation was the worst aspect of his ordeal, a kind of torture. U.S. prisons routinely consign inmates to prolonged, punitive solitary isolation, despite the reality that many correctional professionals believe this does little to reduce uncontrolled violence, according to a recent New Yorker article by Dr. Atul Gawande.

But at least those prisoners have been convicted of some crime. Hashmi is still "presumed innocent" under the Constitution, but, like the unfortunate inmates of Guantanamo, most of them there though bad luck and mistake, the government has been doing what it wished with him. Not surprisingly, his U.S. friends and relatives believe he is suffering this treatment because he is a foreign-born Muslim. They have set up a website with much more at Free Farhad. The trial next week will test the question whether a person subjected to this kind of pretrial treatment can get a hearing in court.

Dr. Gawande (in the article cited above) reached a chilling conclusion about our country's propensity to torture its own prisoners by keeping them in solitary.

This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. With little concern or demurral, we have consigned tens of thousands of our own citizens to conditions that horrified our highest court a century ago. Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America’s moral stature in the world. In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture.

Once these practices are normalized, they are hard to stop ... or even limit.

(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN )


Anonymous said...

He was picked up in London, not Queens.

janinsanfran said...

Anon.: true, this guy was arrested in London and held in a British jail for awhile (in the general population, not in solitary), then extradited to the U.S.

As far as I can tell, his alleged support for terrorism happened in the U.S. -- in Queens. I could be wrong; I'm getting this from news accounts.

What I am protesting is the vindictive cruelty of his pre-trial incarceration.

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