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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Cruel and Unusual amidst U.S. Indifference

Victoria Brittain’s 
“Miscarriages of Justice”
Edited excerpt by 
Carolyn Bennett


“In the United States these days, the very word ‘terror’ ─ no less the charge of material support for it ─ invariably shuts down rather than opens any conversation.” Victoria Brittain says in a decade of research she has come to a different perspective.

She has come to this presence of mind after “researching a number of serious alleged terrorism cases on both side of the Atlantic, working alongside some extraordinary human rights lawyers, and listening to Muslim women in Great Britain and the United States whose lives were transformed by the imprisonment of a husband, father, or brother.”


Most illuminating, she says, “is the repeated use of what’s called “special administrative measures”  ─ to create a particularly isolating and punitive atmosphere for many of those charged with such crimes, those convicted of them, and even for their relatives. 
While these efforts have come fully into their own in the post-9/11 era, they were drawn from a pre-9/11 paradigm. 

Between the material support statute and those special administrative measures, it has become possible for the government to pre-convict and in many cases pre-punish a small set of Muslim men.

“…In addition, special administrative measures have been applied to Ahmed Abu Ali …

…a young Palestinian-American, a university student in Saudi Arabia arrested in 2003 by the Saudi government and held for 20 months without charges or access to a lawyer, they returned to the United States as his family filed a lawsuit in Washington; now serving life in the Administrative Maximum Facility, a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.…

1996 - “… [Special administrative measures] were originally established in 1996 to stop communications from prison inmates who could ‘pose a substantial risk of death or serious risk of injury.’ The targets then were gang leaders. 

“Each special administrative measure was theoretically to be designed to fit the precise dangers posed by a specific prisoner. Since 9/11; however, numerous virtually identical measures have been applied to Muslim men, often like Ahmed Abu Ali with no history of violence.

Silenced: “…A question to Ahmed’s sister about how her brother is doing is answered only with a quick look. She is not allowed to say anything because special measures also prohibit family members from disclosing their communications with prisoners. They similarly prevent defense lawyers from speaking about their clients. It was for a breach of these special measures in relation to her client, the imprisoned blind sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, that lawyer Lynne Stewart was tried and sentenced to 10 years in prison in the Bush years.”
Breach of law: “Although these measures have been contested in court, few have ever been modified, much less thrown out. Those court challenges and evidence provided to the European Court of Human Rights by American lawyers have, however, provided a window into what one of them described as a regime of ‘draconian and inhumane treatment.’

Destroying mental and physical health: Under such special administrative measures at the Metropolitan Correction Center in New York City, a prisoner lives with little natural light, no time in communal areas, no radio or TV, and sometimes no books or newspapers either, while mail and phone calls are permitted only with family, and even then are often suspended for minor infractions. Family visits are always no-contact ones conducted through Plexiglas.
…In cases where special administrative measures are in place pre-trial, such as the well-documented ordeal of American post-graduate student Syed Fahad Hashmi,
─lawyers have often been obliged to prepare cases without actually sitting with their clients, or being able to show them all court materials.

After three pre-trial years mainly in solitary confinement under special administrative measures at the Metropolitan Correction Center, Hashmi accepted a government plea bargain of one count of material support for terrorism and was given a 15-year sentence.

His crime: He allowed an acquaintance to stay at his student apartment in London, use his cell phone, and store a duffel bag there. The bag contained ponchos and waterproof socks that were later supposedly delivered to al-Qaeda, while the phone was used by that acquaintance to make calls to co-conspirators in Britain.


“…In itself, solitary confinement has devastating effects …  and is becoming ever more common in U.S. prisons in breach of internationally recognized norms on the humane treatment of prisoners.  It tends to break the will of inmates, sometimes even robbing them of their sanity. 

“However, in its most extreme use ─ combining those special administrative measures with the isolation imposed in prison communication management units … it is mainly applied to American Muslims.”

Because of special administrative measures applied in his case, Brittain writes, Ahmed Abu Ali cannot do what has been achieved in some well-publicized cases (e.g., Robert King case, Bradley Manning case, Mumia Abu Jamal case). Ahmed Abu Ali nor his family members can contact the outside world in search of the support he and they need.

Quoting Chilean novelist and playwright Ariel Dorfman, Brittain writes:

…Torture ‘presupposes the… abrogation of our capacity to imagine someone else’s suffering, to dehumanize him or her so much that their pain is not our pain.

‘It demands this of the torturer… but also demands of everyone else the same distancing, the same numbness.’

erhaps such a state helps explain why people around the world are far more aware than most Americans of what happens to Muslim men in the post-9/11 'justice system.'  The particular cruelty of the punishments they endure even before their unfair trials, will someday, like the abuses at Guantanamo, gain the attention they deserve."

Sources and notes

“Miscarriages of Justice - Victoria Brittain” (Written by Victoria Brittain, her second piece for TomDispatch), Monday, June 10, 2013,” (Article Copyright 2013 Victoria Brittain)

Victoria Brittain is a journalist and former editor at the Guardian. She has authored or co-authored two plays and four books, including Enemy Combatant with Moazzam Begg. Her latest book is Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror

 Source 1: TomDispatch


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