[Ppnews] My Brother Faces A Lifetime Of Solitary Confinement

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat May 15 10:18:50 EDT 2010

My Brother Faces A Lifetime Of Solitary 
Confinement On A Spurious Terror Conviction

By Mariam Abu-Ali

13 May, 2010

A version of this piece first appeared in 
Hoya, Georgetown University's newspaper.

My brother, Ahmed Abu Ali, has spent the past 
five years in solitary confinement, under 23-hour 
lockdown, in a 7x12 cell. He has one recreational 
hour in which he must get strip-searched if he 
wishes to leave his cell. He gets one unscheduled 
telephone call a month to his family, and 
receives the newspaper by the time news becomes 
history. If I send him a letter wishing him a 
happy birthday, he gets it 60 days later. When I 
visit him, once a year, I speak to him from 
behind a glass window. He is literally in a 
dungeon, over 20 meters beneath the ground.

Ahmed is not in a foreign prison, nor is he in 
Guantánamo; he is in a super maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado.

Ahmed was not convicted of an act of violence nor 
was he charged with one. In 2003, Ahmed, a 
sociable 22-year-old, was studying abroad when he 
was detained in Medina, Saudi Arabia at the 
behest of the U.S government. My family, in 
tandem with several human rights organizations, 
filed a habeas petition demanding his return to 
the U.S., and the judge ruled in our favor.

After being held for nearly two years in Saudi 
Arabia without any charges or access to an 
attorney, Ahmed was transferred to U.S. custody. 
The U.S. government sought to avoid public 
embarrassment by charging him with nine counts of 
terrorism related conspiracy. The only evidence 
presented was a confession tape obtained under 
torture in Saudi Arabia, a country with 
documented prisoner abuse, as reported by the 
State Department. Additionally, the judge 
suppressed the defense's evidence of torture 
during the trial. During a pretrial hearing, 
Ahmed offered to show the scars on his back in 
the U.S. courtroom. The judge refused his 
request, but assured him he would not be mistreated in the United States.

Mistreatment would be an understatement, given 
the draconian conditions under which he is held. 
Ahmed was initially sentenced to 30 years, but 
the prosecution was not satisfied. They appealed 
to increase his sentence. Despite the fact that 
the so-called conspiracies, according to the 
judge, "did not result in a single actual 
victim," he is now serving a life sentence in 
solitary confinement under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs).

Created in 1996, SAMs were imposed for a maximum 
of four months when a prisoner was deemed 
violent. Now, SAMs can be designated by the 
Attorney General for up to a year, and renewed 
continually thereafter resulting in perpetual 
isolation, a form of torture under international 
law. The SAMs limit certain "privileges," 
including, but not limited to, correspondence, 
visits, media interviews and telephone use. SAMs 
also restrict conversations between inmates and 
their lawyers by allowing them to be monitored by 
prison officials, violating attorney-client 
privilege and depriving inmates of their right to 
effective counsel guaranteed by the Sixth 
Amendment. Ahmed was under SAMs even before his 
trial began. Imposing SAMs pre-trial cast a 
shadow of suspicion on a defendant, rendering him guilty until proven innocent.

Unfortunately, my brother's case is not an 
anomaly. Civil rights violations are an integral 
part of the "war on terror" and have become 
entrenched in the U.S. court system and in prison policy.

Fahad Hashmi is a young student from New York, 
who received his B.A from Brooklyn College and 
his master's from London Metropolitan University. 
In 2006, he was arrested at an airport in the 
United Kingdom and held in England's notorious 
Belmarsh prison for 11 months. Like Ahmed, Fahad 
was charged with conspiracy on the basis of 
flimsy evidence. While in the UK, he allowed an 
acquaintance to stay at his apartment for two 
weeks. The government alleges that this 
acquaintance had socks, raincoats and ponchos in 
his luggage during his stay that would later get 
delivered to Al-Qaeda. The government's case 
rested on secret evidence and on the testimony of 
an acquaintance who then became an informant to 
get a reduction on his own prison sentence.

Fahad was extradited back to New York, where was 
held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center 
without a trial under SAMs for the past three 
years. Under 24-hour electronic surveillance, he 
is required to shower and relieve himself in view 
of a camera. Furthermore, his limited family 
visits have been suspended for the past five months.

Extreme sensory deprivation often leads to hunger 
strikes and results in the deterioration of 
prisoners' physical and mental health. Medical 
and scholarly research has shown that such 
sensory deprivation results in depression, 
lethargy and psychosis in otherwise healthy 
prisoners. After studying inmates in solitary 
confinement, Craig Haney, a psychology professor 
at the University of California, Santa Cruz, 
noted that they "begin to lose the ability to 
initiate behavior of any kind -- to organize 
their own lives around activity and purpose 
extreme cases, prisoners may literally stop 
behaving," lapsing into catatonic states.

Senator John McCain, who spent more than two 
years in isolation while detained in Vietnam, has 
said that solitary confinement "crushes your 
spirit and weakens your resistance more 
effectively than any other form of mistreatment." 
Last year, Ahmed's conditions were so unbearable, 
he went on a hunger strike for two months, losing 50 pounds.

Fahad's health has degraded immensely, a fact 
that would have compromised his ability to 
participate in his defense during his trial, 
which was scheduled to begin on April 28. 
Instead, Fahad reached a plea bargain on the eve 
of his trial. In addition to facing the prospect 
of a 70-year prison sentence, the court granted 
the government's request for an anonymous jury 
with extra protection. The Center for 
Constitutional Rights called it "a clear attempt 
to influence the jury by creating a sense of fear 
for their safety and to paint Mr. Hashmi as 
already guilty." Fahad's plea should not be 
presumed as an admission of guilt; the biased 
circumstances led him to accept a chance for a lesser charge.

Ahmed's or Fahad's innocence is not the point, 
although I believe both are guilt-free. Rather, I 
write because regardless of their innocence or 
guilt, it is their right to be treated humanely. 
If we believe in the inherent dignity of each 
human being, then we should be outraged by these 
abuses. Unfortunately, abuse here in the United 
States rarely receives media attention. President 
Obama promised to close down Guantánamo; let us 
demand that he closes down the Guantánamo-style 
prisons on U.S. soil, too. Anyone with a true 
understanding of American values ought to demand 
an immediate end to these cruel and unusual punishments.

Mariam Abu-Ali is a senior at Georgetown University.

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