Guantanamo: So much for Change

According to a recent poll by CNN, public support for closing down GTMO has dropped 12 points over the past 14 months. Shortly before Obama’s inauguration, 51 percent of Americans said they thought the facility in Cuba should be closed. Now this number is down to 39 percent, and six in ten believe the United States should continue to operate Guantanamo.

This drop in numbers might indicate the public’s aversion to the idea of having alleged ‘terrorists’ on U.S. soil or may be due to a general fear of the return of legal rights that it is assumed would accompany such a shift. To this end, the public appears to overestimate the government’s intentions, for even if Guantanamo detainees were transferred to the United States, this shift cannot be assumed as indicative of a change in detention policies. The upcoming trial of Syed Fahad Hashmi, who has been detained in the United States since 2007, indicates that  this administration does not consider it unlawful to hold U.S. citizens with ‘alleged’ links to Al Qaeda under unconstitutional conditions. Bill Quigley, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has recently written the following concerning the treatment, legal conditions, and upcoming trial of Hashmi in the Huffington Post:

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.

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.

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.

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 – http://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.

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.

While public opinion on shutting down GTMO regresses, so too does the hope that the Obama administration will fulfill some of its promises of change.  As  a reminder of why shutting down Guantanamo continues to be imperative, please click on the links embedded here for two sets of  recently released images of everyday life in some of the  medium security camps at the detention site.

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