Human Rights

Rotting in Prison for Hosting the Wrong House Guest? The War on Terror's Insane Abuses Continue

The “No Separate Justice" campaign is taking aim at an abusive system that has wreaked havoc on the lives of hundreds of Muslims.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Tucked behind federal courthouse buildings in lower Manhattan is the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a detention facility that mostly holds prisoners before their cases go to court.  

For nearly three years, a Muslim-American named Syed Fahad Hashmi was held under restrictive conditions inside the walls of the MCC. Before he had his day in court on charges of providing material support to al Qaeda, Hashmi was locked in solitary confinement, confined to his cell for 23 hours a day and only allowed out for one hour of recreation--in a cage.  After striking a plea deal with the federal government in April 2010, he was sentenced to 15 years, and was moved to a prison in Colorado. His crime was hosting an acquaintance at his London apartment who went on to deliver clothes to a high-level militant linked to al Qaeda in Pakistan.  Hashmi fell victim to “material support” laws that have effectively enshrined guilt by association into law.

Today, the 33-year-old Hashmi remains under solitary confinement at the Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) near Florence, Colorado, a maximum security federal prison. In total, he’s toiled under the harsh confines of solitary confinement for six years, doing untold damage to his mental health.

Hashmi is one of hundreds of Muslims caught up in America’s draconian, post-9/11 system of criminal justice, where dubious criminal charges, solitary confinement and Special Administrative Measures that restrict who an inmate can speak to have become the norm. Nearly 90 percent of all terrorism cases have resulted in a conviction since 2001.

“It’s a rigged game for Muslims,” says Faisal Hashmi, Fahad Hashmi’s brother.  “You’re guilty until proven innocent.”

Now, activists and civil liberties groups have joined up with the families impacted by these types of terrorism cases as part of a new campaign called “No Separate Justice.” The campaign, which was first thought of last year, was officially launched in January 2014 to spotlight an abusive system that has wreaked havoc on the lives of hundreds of Muslims and their families.  

The campaign’s website explains that its mission is “to place these abuses, taking place in prisons and courtrooms across the United States, firmly on the agendas of human and civil right organizations, the media, and the U.S. public through education and activism that draws directly upon the experiences and voices of those most directly affected.”  The moniker of “No Separate Justice” echoes what New York Times writer Andrew Rosenthal called “a separate justice system for Muslims” where “the principle of due process is twisted and selectively applied.”

One of the centerpieces of the campaign, which draws parallels with imprisonment conditions at Guantanamo Bay, will be monthly vigils outside the MCC to call attention to how prisoners are treated inside there as well as nationwide.  And the effort has already garnered the support of Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

MCC is “our local site of inhumanity, our local site of torture,” said Jeanne Theoharis, a Brooklyn College professor and writer who taught Hashmi while he attended the school and helped to organize a campaign in support of him after he was imprisoned.

Theoharis was speaking at the kickoff event for the “No Separate Justice” campaign in New York.  On January 7, 2014, over a hundred people gathered at Manhattan’s Judson Memorial Church to learn about the activist effort and to hear the stories of some of those most impacted by the war on terror in the U.S.--including the story of Syed Fahad Hashmi.  The panel also looked at the cases of Tarek Mehanna, who was sentenced to nearly 18 years in prison for translating jihadist media and for allegedly traveling to Yemen in search of a terrorist training camp, something Mehanna denies; Ehsanul “Shifa” Sadequee, who was held under solitary confinement for three years before his trial and ultimately convicted on “material support” charges of terrorism; and Ahmed Abu-Ali, who was convicted of plotting to assassinate George W. Bush after a confession was obtained through torture at the hands of Saudi security forces.

Hashmi’s journey from student to imprisoned accused terrorist began in Brooklyn College, where he was an outspoken student activist and devout Muslim.  Hashmi was a member of Al-Muhajiroun, a Salafi Islamist group banned in Britain for its links to terrorism.  The group has not been deemed a terrorist group in the U.S. and has not been linked to attacks. But the prosecution brought up his membership and political beliefs to bolster their case against him.

Hashmi attended graduate school in England, where he was arrested in 2006 when he tried to board a plane to his native country, Pakistan.  In 2007, he became the first person extradited from Britain to the U.S. under loosened guidelines designed to make it easier for American authorities to prosecute terrorism suspects who were on British soil.  

The case against him centered on the words of one man named Mohammed Junaid Babar, who stayed with Hashmi in his London apartment in 2004.  Babar, who was arrested that same year on charges of material support for terrorism, turned into a cooperating witness for the government and testified against Hashmi.  An acquaintance of his from New York, Babar carried with him to London raincoats, ponchos and waterproof socks which he later delivered to an Al Qaeda member.  Hashmi also allegedly allowed Babar to use his cellphone to call those involved with terror plots.  For this, Hashmi remains locked away, while Babar has since been freed because of his cooperation with the U.S.

When Hashmi came to the U.S., he was whisked away to the MCC, just 13 miles from the Flushing, Queens neighborhood where he grew up.  Hashmi was put under solitary confinement and Special Administrative Measures, which limited his face-to-face contact to only his lawyer and his parents.   Hashmi was monitored electronically during his every waking breath, including when he went to the bathroom.  He could not speak with fellow inmates.  And the few people he was allowed to meet with were barred from speaking about their conversations under the SAMs.

Hashmi’s lawyers tried in vain to get the repressive conditions he was living under lifted.  They argued that solitary confinement does lasting psychological damage to inmates.  The use of solitary confinement has also been condemned as tantamount to torture by the United Nations.  But those arguments did not sway the U.S. Department of Justice.  And even after he plead guilty, he remains in solitary confinement in Colorado.

“Seeing my brother is a dehumanizing experience,” Faisal Hashmi, who last saw his brother a year and half ago, told AlterNet. When he visits in Colorado, his brother is  “behind glass in a small room.  So I haven’t touched my brother in eight years.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents Hashmi, is keeping up the fight for their client.  The organization is trying to move Hashmi out of solitary confinement.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Correctional Center continues to hold terrorism suspects in solitary confinement.  Mahdi Hashi, a British citizen of Somali descent, has been held under solitary confinement on dubious terrorism charges in the MCC for several months. Subjected to SAMs that restrict who he can speak to, Hashi has been on hunger strike for weeks.

 

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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