Monday, May 10, 2010

The Terrorists Have Won, Part 2469

The following is an excerpt from a piece by British attorney Gareth Peirce in the London Review of Books.
One young American citizen, Syed Fahad Hashmi, was due to stand trial this month in Manhattan. He has been subjected to every coercive and unconstitutional practice at issue in the still outstanding extraditions in the three years since he was flown from the UK to the US. Before his transfer to the US, Hashmi was held in Belmarsh Prison in the same conditions as all other prisoners, accused of an offence that if tried in the UK would have merited at most a sentence of two or three years; since his extradition, he has been kept in total isolation in a tiny cell. He has not seen daylight since arriving in this New York prison.
The Anglo-American adversarial process is intended to rest on a guarantee of fairness, an equality of arms between prosecution and defence. Hashmi, under the disabilities that years of solitary confinement inevitably create, even for the strongest and fittest, faced a prosecution based on the evidence of a co-operating witness who pleaded guilty in the US to engagement in terrorist activity in Pakistan, including the use of explosives and the attempted murder of the country’s then president. The witness, having served the shortest of prison terms in the US, and having given evidence against others in a cluster of trials in a range of jurisdictions, claimed that Hashmi, a student in England, let him leave a suitcase in his London flat in which there were combat clothes and lent him his phone, on which he, the witness, rang a suspected terrorist in the UK. This was enough to secure his extradition. For this, the co-operating witness goes free and his victim stands trial on charges of providing material support for terrorism. On the eve of that trial, having maintained his innocence for three years, but faced with the prospect of a 70-year sentence, Hashmi changed his plea to guilty.

And that effective life sentence would be served under the most horrifying conditions imaginable- in total isolation, without any human contact or sunlight, and deprived of any stimulation or distraction of any kind. Imagine the door closing on a small white room, with no books or television or phone or anything else to do but stare at a white wall until you drive yourself mad. And imagine realizing that this is where you will spend the rest of life.

If that is not one of the worst forms of psychological torture imaginable, then I am at a loss as to how else to describe it.

And after three years of enduring this torture, and being told that if you do not confess you be found guilty anyway by an American kangaroo court, and that this will be your fate, how can you possibly find the strength to continue to maintain your innocence?

The entire piece must be read by anyone who still believes that the United States criminal justice system is anything more than a total farce, and who believes that we have any right to lecture Iran or China or anyone else on the subject of human rights.

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