The Arrest and Torture of Syed Hashmi

An Interview with Jeanne Theoharis

Jeanne Theoharis is the author of an April, 2009 article in The Nation, entitled “Guantanamo At Home,” which focuses on the arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of US citizen Syed Hashmi in a New York City prison with Guantanamo-like conditions. Theoharis holds the endowed chair in women’s studies and is an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College, CUNY.

Syed Hashmi’s trial will begin in New York City on December 1. The website freefahad explains that: “Syed Hashmi, known to his family and friends as Fahad, was born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1980, the second child of Syed Anwar Hashmi and Arifa Hashmi. Fahad immigrated with his family to America when he was three years old. His father said ‘We knew there would be many opportunities for us here in the United States. We came here to find the American dream.’ The large Hashmi family settled in Flushing, New York and soon developed deep roots throughout the tri-state area. Fahad graduated from Robert F. Wagner High School in 1998 and attended SUNY Stony Brook University. He transferred to Brooklyn College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2003. A devout Muslim, through the years Fahad established a reputation as an activist and advocate. In 2003, Fahad enrolled in London Metropolitan University in England to pursue a master’s degree in international relations, which he received in 2006. On June 6, 2006, Fahad was arrested in London Heathrow airport by British police based on an American indictment charging him with material support of Al Qaida. He was subsequently held in Belmarsh Prison, Britain’s most notorious jail.” For more information: the Hashmi case.

Angola 3 News: Can you please give us background on the arrest and prosecution of Syed Hashmi? For example, what are the charges against him? What is their evidence?

Jeanne Theoharis: In June 2006, Hashmi, who is a US citizen, was arrested by the British police at Heathrow Airport (he was about to travel to Pakistan, where he has family) on a warrant issued by the US government. In May 2007, he was extradited to the United States, the first US citizen to be extradited under terrorism laws passed after 9/11. Since then, he has since been held in solitary confinement at Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).

The US government alleges that early in 2004, a man by the name of Junaid Babar, also a Pakistani-born US citizen, stayed with Hashmi at his London apartment for two weeks. According to the government, Babar stored luggage containing raincoats, ponchos, and waterproof socks in Hashmi’s apartment and then Babar delivered these materials to the third-ranking member of Al Qaida in South Waziristan, Pakistan. In addition, Hashmi allegedly allowed Babar to use his cell phone to call other conspirators in terrorist plots.

The government has claimed that Babar’s testimony is the “centerpiece” of its case. Babar, who has pleaded guilty to five counts of material support for Al Qaida, faces up to seventy years in prison. While awaiting sentence, he has agreed to serve as a government witness in terrorism trials in Britain and Canada as well as in Hashmi’s trial. Under a plea agreement reported in the media, Babar will receive a reduced sentence in return for his cooperation.

A3N: What can you tell us about Hashmi as a person, especially your personal experience of knowing him when he was a student of yours?

JH: Fahad was a student of mine at Brooklyn College in 2002. An outspoken Muslim student activist, Fahad wrote his senior seminar paper with me on the treatment of Muslim groups within the United States and the violations of civil rights and liberties that many groups were facing. Needless to say, this feels particularly chilling—and no longer academic—as we have now witnessed his own rights being violated.

A3N: Since his arrest, what have the conditions of his incarceration been?

JH: Under special administrative measures (SAMs) imposed in October 2007 by the former Attorney General, Hashmi must be held in solitary confinement and may not communicate with anyone inside the prison other than prison officials. 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.

As the expert testimony supplied by Hashmi’s attorneys in a pre-trial motion of December 2008 attests, the conditions of Hashmi’s detention may have severe physical and mental consequences and impair his mental state and ability to testify on his own behalf.

While former Acting Attorney General Keisler claimed that these measures are necessary because “there is substantial risk that [Hashmi’s] communications or contacts with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury to persons,” Hashmi was held with other prisoners in a British jail for eleven months without incident. The SAMs were renewed by Attorney General Mukasey in November 2008 and upheld by Judge Loretta Preska in January 2009, citing Hashmi’s “proclivity for violence.” There has been no change to the SAMs under the Obama Administration. They were renewed again by Attorney General Holder in early November 2009. Yet, Hashmi is not being charged and has never been charged with committing an actual act of violence.

Currently, according to research by the New York Times in February 2009, there are six people in the United States being held on pre-trial terrorism SAMs; three (including Hashmi) are under the jurisdiction of the Southern District of New York, which has long served as a stepping stone to national political office.

A3N: Looking particularly at the harsh solitary confinement imposed on Hashmi, how is this officially justified? Do you think the stated reason is the actual motivation, or do you think there are other reasons for the solitary confinement and other harsh restrictions?

JH: My colleagues and I have begun to come to the conclusion that the use of prolonged solitary confinement is a tactic to ensure convictions. Such conditions weaken people mentally and the toll of sensory deprivation and isolation simultaneously makes people more eager to take a plea or not able to fully assist their counsel. Most experts agree it is torture (see Atul Gawande’s “Hellhole” in The New Yorker). While our public discussions have tended to see torture as a tactic to get information, in cases like Hashmi’s, torture is being used to help secure convictions.

A3N: How are the prion conditions for Hashmi in NYC different from those in Guantanamo?

JH: There are key similarities of prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation between Hashmi’s treatment at MCC in lower Manhattan and what we have heard of the conditions at Guantanamo. However, there has been much less attention to these inhumane conditions within the United States.

The focus on prisons like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Baghram stems, in part, from a larger post-civil rights paradigm that assumes the judicial process is now fair in the United States and relatively incorruptible and thus it was necessary to go outside of the US courts to do the extreme bad things.

Rather, what made Guantanamo possible stemmed from domestic legal practices, many already in place and many others expanded after 9/11, which have continued almost unabated under the Obama Administration.

A3N: With Hashmi’s trial beginning on December 1, what are activists currently doing to support him?

JH: Theaters Against War began holding weekly vigils in October to draw attention to the inhumane conditions of confinement and the due process violations Hashmi and others are facing within the federal courts. Artists and actors such as Wallace Shawn, Kathleen Chalfant, Bill Irwin, Jan Maxwell, Betty Shamieh, and Christine Moore have performed at the vigils.

A3N: Any closing thoughts?

JH: Three central Constitutional issues have become clear in the treatment of Hashmi and others within the federal system: the inhumane conditions of confinement, the abridgement of due process rights , and the lack of 1st Amendment protections.

If these are not addressed, then moving the Guantanamo detainees into the federal system does little to return America to the rule of law, of which we are rightfully proud. I am reminded of that quote by former Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1967, “It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of… those liberties… which [make] the defense of the nation worthwhile.”

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4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rehmat said on November 21st, 2009 at 12:20am #

    Being a devout Muslim is a crime enough in a Zionist occupied United States. The justice and law enforement agencies are both controlled by the Zionist mafia.

    Stephen Lendman has posted an article, titled Tariq Mehanna: Obama\’s Latest Muslim Target (October 26, 2009), in which he wrote:

    “Post-9/11 Muslims have been victimized, vilified, and persecuted for their faith, ethnicity, prominence, activism and charity. Yhey’ve been targetted, hunted down, rounded up, held in detention, kept in isolation, denied bail, restricted in their right to counsel, tried on secret evidence, convicted on bogus charges, given long sentences, then incarcerated for extra harsh treatment as political prisoners in segregated Communication Management Units (CMUs) in violation of US Prison Bureauregulation and the Supreme Court’s February 2005 Johnson vs California decision.

    Whenever Muslims are charged, the dominant media provides support without ever questioning the legitimacy of accusations. As a result, innocent victims are vilified. They’re presumed guilty unless proved innocent. Fear is instilled in the public, while law enforcement officials are portrayed as public defenders, working to keep us safe from bad guys.

    Tariq Mehanna with no previous criminal record – has been described by his friends and family as a matureing Muslim community leader, a pssionate writer, and a young man wanting a career in Saudi Arabia as a pharmacist, not a jihadist, even though he supports the right of oppressed people to resist as international law allows. In the Kingdom he was promised a good pay, generous benefits, and free trip home. He was boarding a plane in Boston en route when he was arrested.

  2. Mary said on November 21st, 2009 at 2:11am #

    I am sorry that it was British police who fell in with the US in this injustice. Blair passed the extradition legislation through parliament with his large maj0ority as emergency legislation at the behest of his master Bush’s cabal of war criminals.

    The same police force failed to arrest the IDF General Almog at Heathrow fearing a shoot out with his heavies. His crime – killing civilians. Fahad’s crime – speaking his mind and giving hospitality to a friend.

    Where is the law? The powerful now own it.

    ‘In 2005, human rights groups criticised British authorities for failing to arrest Doron Almog, an Israeli general for whom an arrest warrant for alleged war crimes had been issued when his aircraft landed in London. Almog stayed on the plane at Heathrow after being informed that he could face arrest and was allowed to return to Israel.’

    I have read this report, watched the video and signed the petition. It is harrowing to see Fahad’s parents and to hear his father say that his American dream has been shattered.

    Please give our love to Fahad and his family. I am sure that his good lawyers will prevail and that Fahad will breathe fresh air and see the sky again soon.

  3. Tonny Watson said on November 21st, 2009 at 2:38am #

    Who care about this man he is a criminal.I think that Government should pass a law to shut that kind of criminal in front of city

  4. JOHN PAUL said on November 21st, 2009 at 10:21am #

    The real criminal is you, tonny watson, who has supported the empire builders to kill more than 1.5 millions in Iraq based on lies, 3 million in vietnam, thousand of innocent people in Japan, thousand of people including children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, millions in Asia, Lebanon and the list goes on and on with another lie, ‘war on terror’ to expand your fu**ing influence. People of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and people from America and Europe who believe enough is enough must be united against the war and their supporters , air headed fools, and forced these criminals out. You are war CRIMINALS AND MUST BE BROUGHT DOWN.