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Hedges: SAMs -- The Creepy, Inhumane Legal Weapon the State Uses to Break Prisoners

The program, renewed by Barack Obama in October, severely isolates the prisoner, cutting them off from family, friends and the outside world.

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The weekly visits Hashmi’s family made to the jail in Manhattan were canceled. A single family member was permitted to visit only once every two weeks, and on a number of occasions the family member was inexplicably denied admittance. During the last five months of the trial Hashmi’s family was barred from visiting him. Anyone who has contact with a prisoner under SAMs is prohibited by law from disclosing any information learned from the detainee. This requirement, in a twist Kafka would have relished, makes it illegal for those who have contact with an inmate under SAMs—including attorneys—to speak about his or her physical and psychological condition. 

Once the SAMs were imposed, “He wrote us occasionally—one letter on no more than three pages at a time—but he was allowed no correspondence or contact with anyone else,” his father said of his son. “In addition, because of Fahad’s SAMs, we were not allowed to discuss anything we heard from him, including his health or any details of his detention or what he was experiencing, with anyone else. It was like being suffocated.”

In a pretrial motion, Hashmi’s lawyer presented the extensive medical and scholarly research that demonstrates the severe impact solitary confinement has on human beings, often leaving them incapable of defending themselves during their trial. It did not sway the judge. Fahad lived in a universe, before ever being sentenced, where he had no fresh air and was subjected to 23-hour lockdown and constant electronic surveillance including when he showered or relieved himself. He was barred from group prayer. He exercised alone in a solitary cage. He was denied access to television or a radio. His newspapers were cut up by censors. And this was all  before trial.

“These years have brought deep disillusionment for my family in the American justice system,” his father said. “Fahad was restricted in reviewing much of the evidence against him, and even his attorney could not discuss much of the evidence with him. Secret evidence is something we knew from back home. The judge accepted the prosecutor’s motion to introduce Fahad’s political activities and speeches into the trial to demonstrate his mind-set. Where was the First Amendment to protect Fahad’s speech? Two days before the trial was set to begin, Judge Preska agreed to the prosecutor’s motion to keep the jury anonymous and kept under extra security—even though this could have frightened the jury and affected how they viewed Fahad.”

“On the day before trial, nearly four years since he had been arrested, I had just returned from dropping off clothes for Fahad to wear to court when I received a call from my attorney,” Fahad’s father said. “The government had offered a deal to drop three of the four charges against Fahad, if he accepted one charge which carried a 15-year sentence and Fahad had agreed to this plea bargain. I was shocked by my son’s decision on the eve of his trial, but after I thought more, I wondered how anyone could have decided differently in his situation. Fahad had been in solitary confinement, under SAMs, for nearly three years. The judge had in every instance sided with the government in pretrial motions. If convicted, Fahad faced a possible 70-year sentence. Under those circumstances, Fahad’s decision to accept one charge was no longer surprising. He has been in for five years this June.” 

“The U.S. government is concerned about human rights in China and Iran,” he went on. “I wonder about Fahad’s rights, and how they have been blatantly violated in this great land. It seems like ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is only a saying. My son was treated as guilty until proven innocent.”

 
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