This July 4th, let’s be true to our principles
It’s the Fourth of July in America, and a U.S. citizen sits in solitary confinement in New York — and he hasn’t even been convicted of a crime.
His name is Syed Fahad Hashmi. His treatment stands in stark contrast to the freedoms we celebrate on this holiday.
For more than two years, Hashmi has awaited trial on four charges of providing material support to Al Qaeda. Hashmi has never previously been charged with a crime.
He grew up in Flushing, Queens, in New York and became an outspoken Muslim student activist. Now he sits in the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
He is allowed no contact with anyone outside his lawyer and, in very limited form, his parents.
He is allowed to write one letter to one family member a week and cannot use more than three sheets of paper.
His cell is electronically monitored inside and out, with shower and toilet in view of the camera.
He is allowed only one hour out of his cell a day — which is periodically withheld — and is not permitted fresh air but forced to exercise inside in a solitary cage.
He is forbidden any contact, directly or through his attorneys, with the news media and can only read portions of newspapers approved by his jailers, and not until 30 days after publication.
The government publicly claims the centerpiece of its case will be the testimony of Junaid Babar, who alleges he stayed with Hashmi at his London apartment for two weeks in early 2004, stored luggage containing raincoats, ponchos and waterproof socks in Hashmi’s apartment, used Hashmi’s cell phone to call other conspirators and then delivered these materials to the third-ranking member of Al Qaeda in South Waziristan, Pakistan.
Much of the evidence against Hashmi is classified. While his lawyers went through a CIA-level clearance to view it, they are not allowed to discuss it with Hashmi himself.
Hashmi’s case is unfortunately not an aberration. Other terrorism suspects in the United States have been stripped of many of their due process rights.
Yet we, as Americans, tend to think that the abuses in the War on Terror happened outside the United States and are a thing of the past. We’ve focused our attention on our Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the CIA’s secret prisons but neglected the abuses right here at home.
Seeking to reassure the American public about closing Guantanamo, President Obama in May decried the techniques used there during the Bush years as “not America.” Two weeks later in Cairo, Egypt, he promised to “speak the truth as best I can.”
The truth — yet to be acknowledged by the Obama administration — is that such treatment is unfortunately still America.
Cases like Hashmi’s should be at the center of the public conversation about truth and civil liberties in the post-Bush era.
On this July Fourth, we must affirm the rule of law here in America, ending inhumane conditions of confinement and reaffirming the right to due process in court.
Jeanne Theoharis is the endowed chair in women’s studies and associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College of CUNY and the author of numerous books on civil rights. For more on Hashmi’s case, see www.educatorsforcivilliberties.org. Theoharis can be reached at pmproj [at] progressive [dot] org.
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