Not Just Guantanamo: U.S. Torturing Muslim Pre-Trial Detainee in New York City

by Bill Quigley

Today in New York City, the U.S. is torturing a Muslim detainee with no prior criminal record who has not even gone to trial.

So, what is so unusual about that, it happens everyday to thousands in this country. One does not have to be Muslim to be tortured in the United States. As I found out all it takes is a con man telling lies about you and without any evidence a prosecutor can send you to a hell hole. Especially if he already has a disliking for you because you stood up to his lies in the past. He can do it knowing you are innocent and never suffer any consequences for his actions. Don't think the judge will ask for proof before issuing the warrant either.

Illegal immigrants are held in horrendous conditions in the United States. Pre-trial inmates are held in overcrowded conditions in Alaska. The women in pre-trial conditions are held within small sections of prisons which were meant for male prisoners. These women are denied access to rehabilitation.The regular and law libraries have limited access. There is almost no ability for exercise, including going outside. They are essentially treated as second class citizens whose rights do not matter at all. I had one higher up at the DOC tell me all the women who are sentenced in Alaska are held at Hiland Mountain. This is not true. There are sentenced women held at Wildwood in Kenai and the superintendent in2008 told me there had been sentenced women there for over a year at that time. So when reports are given that only pre-trial female inmates are in these bad conditions, it is untrue.

Grievances are thrown away and health care is denied. Mentally ill inmates are put in segregation as well as others. This practice causes existing mental illness to become worse and can cause mental illness. They chain women to the floor in the mental health unit at Hiland Mountain. Yes, it happened while I was there and they did threaten to do it to me as well. The threats came from a very nasty nurse, who several times told me these were not patients as I had referred to them, they were inmates. By standards anywhere these women who were inmates were without any doubt also patients. Most of them should not have been in the prison to begin with, they should have been in a psychiatric setting. They have some crazy door thing that slides up and down a row of cells that they can affix to a cell door blocking the mentally ill inmate from being able to communicate with staff or see out of the small window on the door. This of course only serves to make the person sicker. They use these barbaric punishments on people who are trying to get medication, file grievances, get toilet paper, are begging to take a shower after being denied one for several days, and are banging on the door because basic requests have been ignored over a long period of time for rights the supreme court of this country said they are supposed to have.

For the last almost three years, Syed Fahad Hashmi has been kept in total pre-trial isolation inside in a small cell under 24 hour video and audio surveillance. He is forced to use the bathroom and shower in full view of the video. He has not seen the sun in years. He takes his meals alone in his cell. He cannot see any other detainees and he is not allowed to communicate in any way with any prisoners. He cannot write letters to friends and he cannot make calls to anyone but his lawyer. He is prohibited from participating in group prayer. He gets newspapers that are 30 days old with sections cut out by the government. One hour a day he is taken into another confined room where he is also kept in total isolation.

I was held in this type situation for 7 to 10 days, I can only imagine what it must be like for those kept in isolation for years.  The staff ignore inmates in isolation cells and many enjoy being cruel to them. They had cameras on me, but they were not watching them. In fact one of the nurses on night shift at Hiland Mountain would disappear into what I assume is the break room for several hours, I guess she needed a nap. This was very dangerous as they had some violent as well as suicidal people.

Children are taught that the U.S. Constitution protects people accused of crimes. No one is to be punished unless their guilt or innocence has been decided in a fair trial. Until trial, people are entitled to the presumption of innocence. They are entitled to be defended by an attorney of their choice. And the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

This is hogwash people are not considered innocent until proven guilty, not by the mainstream media and not by the public. This is because the public believes the myth prosecutors only charge people with crimes when they have evidence they did it. There is no such thing as a fair court anymore. The judicial system has gone right wing. The system is designed to put as many as possible in prison. The legislators sold their souls to the prison corporations and passed harsh laws. The constitution has been ignored. Poor people are not defended by the attorney of their choice. They get public defenders who do not defend them, they are essentially an arm of the attorney general’s office. In fact Sarah Palin’s staff several times indicated to me they thought the public defender agency was located at the department of law, even transferring me to the department of law so I could speak to the public defender agency several times to my amazed frustration. They work in concert. Has anyone even one time heard of a public defender getting a verdict in favor of their client? 95% of all those represented by public defenders in this country are coerced into taking pleas. I was threatened and lied too while saying I wanted a trial. Trials are only allowed for certain crimes like murder.

The punishment of Mr. Hashmi has been going on for years while he has been waiting for trial. In addition to the punitive isolation he is subjected to today, he was denied the attorney of his choice. He was allowed only counsel investigated and pre-approved by the government. He is not allowed to look at any translated documents unless the translator is pre-approved by the government. He is not allowed any contact with the media at all. One member of his family can visit through the heavy screen for one hour every other week unless the government takes away those visits to further punish him. The government took away his family visits for 90 days when he was observed shadow boxing in his cell and talked back to the guard who asked what he was doing.

BTW, this sort of thing is done on many levels. Corrections officers put people in punitive segregation for talking back or having an attitude they don’t like, here in Alaska segregation is threatened for having the audacity to ask for health care. Talking back includes telling them that blocking you from going to the law library is a violation of your constitutional rights. Of course in my case I am more outspoken than most people. One corrections officer told me lawyers don't know what they are talking about. My response was, "And you know this because you had several weeks of training for this job." If you file a grievance, make phone calls, or write letters to the outside to try and get help you will be punished. They also illegally read mail, especially if they think the inmate may be writing about the abuses in the prison. I had my emails held intentionally(inmates can only get them from lawyers) which had been sent by a public defender(only to tell me she was no longer my attorney) and then they made up lies to try and cover for what they did. I believe the plan was to throw them away until it was pointed out to them they had been sent. They had also at times prevented me from making phone calls.

If the Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, what is the impact of forced isolation? Medical testimony presented in his case in federal court concluded that after 60 days in solitary people’s mental state begins to break down. 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.

This is what they want to happen. They love inflicting harm on people, especially if they stand strong and tell them they are in violation of the constitution. I was told by staff in the mental health unit at Hiland Mountain they were going to break me and had requested to put me in administrative segregation. They said it was because I had been writing multiple grievances, which they define as trouble making. It may have also been because I told the psychiatrist she should loose her medical license as she did not know what she was doing. This was stopped at a hearing in which I told a parole officer(no, I have no idea why it was a parole officer) the truth about what had been going on. With tears in her eyes she said she was recommending I go to open population so I could make phone calls to get my cat some help and get out of there. They never allowed me in open population, in fact one really sick corrections officer told me he could keep me in the orientation unit 83 days. When I wrote a grievance about what he said he called me in the office and told me he would tell his supervisor I was a liar to which I replied, “Well then, you’ll be lying to your supervisor about me being a liar then won’t you.” He then played games having me rewrite the forms over and over for bizarre technical reasons which made no sense and was supposed to make me tired of writing them so I would give up. He had not idea how stubborn I can be. I would imagine he threw the last ones in the garbage anyway. That’s SOP at the DOC.

That is why, under international standards for human rights, extended isolation is considered a form of torture and is banned. The conditions and practices of isolation are in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.N. Convention against Torture, and the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

There are no human rights in prisons in the United States, especially for the mentally ill. Corrections officers are allowed to prey upon inmates, taunting, humiliating, threatening, and blocking access to help. Being bullied causes PTSD with possible violence or suicide. Medical care is denied leading to suffering, people are harmed due to lack of prevention of future problems such as with diabetes. Inmates die much younger than they would have because once you are convicted of a crime you become a throw away person. In the minds of the staff at the prisons and much of the public you are no longer viewed as human and your suffering is viewed as something you deserve. Throw away people are given very little rehabilitation, in the minds of officials at the DOC what would be the point. An offender may have had less than poor legal counsel and some are innocent or are given harsh sentences way out of line for what they did. No, not all inmates say they are innocent. I asked around because I was innocent and wondered how many others were. I found three of about twenty women in the area I was in who claimed to be innocent, myself included.

In 1995, the U.N. Human Rights Committee stated that isolation conditions in certain U.S. maximum security prisons were incompatible with international standards. In 1996, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture reported on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in U.S. supermax prisons. In 2000, the U.N. Committee on Torture roundly condemned the United States for its treatment of prisoners, citing supermax prisons. In May 2006, the same committee concluded that the United States should “review the regimen imposed on detainees in supermax prisons, in particular, the practice of prolonged isolation.”

This is done in many prison situations, it is not just supermax prisons.

John McCain said his two years in solitary confinement were torture. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” The reaction of McCain and many other victims of isolation torture were described in a 2009 New Yorker article on isolation by Atul Gawande. Gawande concluded that prolonged isolation is objectively horrifying, intrinsically cruel, and more widespread in the U.S. than any country in the world.

It is often done as retaliation by sadistic, sick corrections officers who have feelings of inferiority and now have been given power over people who are helpless to find any defense. This is the epitome of the psychological situation that facilitates bullies.

Who is this man? Syed Fahad Hashmi grew up in Queens and attended Brooklyn College. He became an outspoken Muslim activist. He moved to London and received a master’s degree in international relations there.

Yet the federal judge hearing his case continues to approve of the forced isolation and the rest of the restrictions on this presumably innocent man.

We have judges who care little for human rights now that our courts have been radicalized to the right. The public seems totally blind to the constitution nor has any understanding of what our courts are supposed to be. They cry injustice when someone who seems guilty to them is set free or given a light sentence yet when so many innocent people have been incarcerated or given harsh sentences they remain silent. Why are people not in the streets protesting? Do they not realize they or their child could be next? Justice is only for the rich and powerful in the United States. I have heard nothing from President Obama about this issue, he only dedicates more money for the drug war.

Sarah Palin’s son was sent out of state when he got in trouble for vandalizing buses and had an Oxycontin addiction. A judge apparently told him he could join the army or go to jail. Would any other kid have been given that option? Diana Palin got an SIS which means after probation she has the charges dropped from her record and was sentenced to rehab after a couple months in jail. She had several burglaries and had used her child to get into people’s homes for thefts. Would anyone else have gotten a sentence like that? There is now a story about Willow having been involved with 11 other kids in breaking into a vacant home and vandalizing it to the tune of $20,000 to $30,000. The story is it was Willow’s idea to use the home. Apparently Sarah Palin at first denied Willow was in town that day. The other kids all said she was there. A secret meeting was supposed to have been held with higher ups at juvenile justice. They decided they would only charge the boys with crimes. If this story is true which I do certain believe it is, how the hell is Sarah Palin allowed to get away with this? Does she have something on the director of the juvenile justice system, Steve McComb, or is he just another of her trained monkeys? It says this on the website next to his picture: We are committed to holding youths accountable for their actions while also protecting communities, repairing the harm to victims and working to ensure that youths gain necessary skills to function successfully in society.

Apparently that commitment only aplies to non-Palins who have penises.

If Mr. McComb was not involved in this he needs to speak out against whatever deal was struck and anyone involved needs to be fired. If the meeting was with higher ups, I fail to see how he could not have been involved. This is part of the problem with the justice system federally and on the state level, justice is not even handed. Some are never even charged for their crimes, others with connections to power and money get light sentences.

The reason that this is allowed to continue is that Hashmi is accused of being involved with al Qaeda.

Mr. Hashmi is accused of helping al Qaeda by allowing rain gear (raincoats, ponchos and socks) that were going to Afghanistan to be stored in his Queens apartment, he allowed his cell phone to be used to contact al Qaeda supporters and he made post-arrest threatening statements.

Supporters of Fahad have demonstrated outside his jail, set up a website – www.freefahad.com and have worked for years to alert the public to his torture. Articles by Amy Goodman, Chris Hedges and Jeanne Theoharris have been written over the past several years documenting and protesting these human rights violations.

But, once accused of connections with terrorism or al Qaeda, apparently, the U.S. constitution and international human rights apparently do not apply. Torture by the U.S. is allowed. Pre-trial punishment is allowed. The presumption of innocence goes out the window. Counsel of choice is not allowed. Communication with news media not allowed.

Hello, they torture people who are not connected to Al Qaeda and the constitution and international human rights NEVER apply. When will the people in this country wake up? How long will they persist in being blind. Is it because people are ill informed or do they simply choose to be in denial? If I read another article about how someone is being sent to prison where they will receive health care at the tax payer’s expense I will throw up, especially if the offender is mentally ill. The public have been convinced through the use of propaganda on many levels to believe falsehoods about inmates so more and more could be incarcerated. This was done so prison corporations could sell them supplies and build more prisons. People are being sacrificed and destroyed for profit and the U.S. public stood by and cheered them on.

The trial of Syed Fahad Hashmi is set for April 28, 2010 in New York. Till then he will continue to be tortured by the U.S. government whose star spangled banner proclaims it to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The United States is not the land of the free and all one has to do is look around to see all the sniveling cowards in political positions or reporting the news. Those who have courage are side lined, ignored, described as conspiracy theorists, and certainly those who have courage are rarely elected to any office.

Bill is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Quigley77@gmail.com


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