Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Long Torture of NYC/Manhattan Prisoner, Syed Fahad Hashmi

Veteran InterPress News Service reporter Bill Fisher has an impassioned article detailing the horrendous treatment meted out to U.S. citizen prisoner, Syed Fahad Hashmi. Mr. Hashmi has spent approximately three years in prison, on 23 hr. lockdown in the isolation unit at the federal prison at Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan. He goes on trial on April 28 "for conspiring to send money and military gear -- socks and rainproof ponchos -- to al Qaeda associates in Pakistan."

The conditions of Mr. Hashmi's incarceration are onerous, as he is held under what are called special administrative measures (SAMs). Prior to his extradition from Britain in 2007, he was held in cells with other prisoners with no incidents. Why is he held in such barbaric conditions?
[H]ashmi is held under Justice Department rules known as SAMs - Special Administrative Measures. He is held so he won't escape. He is held so he can't contact any Al Qaeda operatives.

Now, I have no idea whether Hashmi is guilty or not. That's why we have trials.

But what about the Constitution? What about the presumption of innocence until proven guilty? What about the Constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial? And an attorney of our choice?

Those rules are evidently abandoned the instant someone utters the words Al Qaeda.

And how about the proscription against cruel and unusual punishment? Does three years in solitary sound "cruel" and "unusual?"

Well, the medical testimony presented in this case concluded that "after 60 days in solitary people's mental state begins to break down." According to Bill Quigley of the Center for Constitutional Rights, "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."
Solitary confinement and isolation are among the cruelest punishments that can be inflicted on a human being. It attacks the nervous system, as well as the core humanity of the individual. It is a pernicious form of sensory and social deprivation, which has cytotoxic effects upon the brain.

One study out of the University of Chicago in 2007 showed that essential enzymes in the brain that regulate the GABA neurotransmitter that helps modulate stress and anxiety is reduced by half under conditions of isolation. The result is the person is unable to cope with fears, aggression, and loneliness. Even the CIA, in their 1983 Latin American torture manuals, called "a powerful stressor", and explained its purpose as producing a psychological regression in the victim. People in long-term isolation, like Mr. Hashmi, can suffer from depression, panic attacks, hallucinations, and have great difficulty adjusting to a normal social life after incarceration. Isolation was the preferred form of torture used by the KGB and the East European Stalinist governments. It is one of the worst forms of psychological torture that can be inflicted on a human being, who is a social creature, and needs the stimulation of social contact to survive. When inflicted by people over whom the victim feels he has no control, or in an atmosphere of fear, control, and dominance, the effects of isolation are worsened tremendously. Most people can stand only a few months of such treatment before they break down, much less the years Mr. Hashmi has endured.

In August 2008, according to the New York Daily News, "Some 500 academics have penned a letter protesting the harsh, post-9/11 conditions keeping accused terror suspect and Brooklyn College grad Syed Hashmi under 23-hour-a-day lockdown."

The SAMs are even more restrictive than most people realize. Jeanne Theoharis, a former professor of Hashmi (who studied violations of civil rights and liberties in the United States of Muslims and various groups), and who has written on his case, described the procedures in an interview with Dissident Voice:
Family visits are limited to one person every other week for one and a half hours and cannot involve physical contact. While his correspondence to members of Congress and other government officials is not restricted, he may write only one letter (of no more than three pieces of paper) per week to one family member. He may not communicate, either directly or through his attorneys, with the news media. He may read only designated portions of newspapers – and not until thirty days after their publication – and his access to other reading material is restricted. He may not listen to or watch news-oriented radio stations and television channels. He may not participate in group prayer. He is subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring inside and outside his cell – including when he showers or relieves himself – and 23-hour lockdown. He has no access to fresh air and must take his one hour of daily recreation – when it is given – inside a cage.
Bill Fisher is right. This is an outrage. What kind of country has the United States become? One that has shredded its very founding documents for a simulacrum of security and a mishmash of police measures aimed at crushing dissent, and making justice a quaint artifact of the past.

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