Syed Fahad Hashmi, also known as Fahad Hashmi, has been imprisoned in Britain and the United States since June 2006. Hashmi is a graduate of Brooklyn College with a 2003 degree in Political Science and lived with his Pakistani family in Queens, New York. In 2006, Hashmi earned a master’s degree in international relations from London Metropolitan University. Hashmi was known in his college years to be a political and outspoken student.
On June 6th, 2006, Hashmi was arrested at London Heathrow airport when he was about to return to his family in the US. An American indictment charged him with material support of Al Qaida, and Hashmi was then held in Belmarsh, a Category A prison, located in London. Hashmi was then extradited to the United States after eleven months and has been held ever since in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, under extreme measures.
Hashmi is charged with four counts of providing material support to Al Qaida, though he is not charged with providing any money or resources to any terrorists, or of being a member of Al Qaida itself. The basis of the charges stem from Hashmi allowing an old acquaintance from New York, Junaid Babar, to stay with him in London for approximately two weeks in 2004. Babar allegedly kept several ponchos, raincoats, and waterproof socks in his luggage that was present at Hashmi’s apartment at that time. Babar is accused of giving the materials to a high-ranking member of Al Qaida at some point, after leaving Hashmi. Hashmi however claims that he didn’t have knowledge of Babar’s activities, hence the absence of charges of personally helping or giving assistance to Al Qaida.
Much of the evidence against Hashmi stems from Babar’s testimony. What is troubling, however, is that Babar has taken a plea bargain and will receive a reduced sentence if he testifies against Hashmi. Babar was arrested in 2004 and charged with terrorist offences, later becoming a cooperating witness after receiving a 70-year sentence. In 2004, several men were arrested because of Babar’s testimony – yet Hashmi was left alone until two years later. Furthermore, the British government monitored Babar’s movements in the United Kingdom very closely, and they themselves did not accuse Hashmi of anything.
Since arriving in the United States, Hashmi has been confined under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), which were passed under Clinton. Under these restrictions, Hashmi has been in solitary confinement continuously for 23 hours a day, with his one hour of recreation given indoors. There is no access to fresh air. He has no contact with anyone except his lawyer, prison officials, and one visit a week from an immediate family member. He has limited access to reading material and can only read newspapers that are past 30 days old and have been through censors. Hashmi is also subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring, and cannot even move around completely freely in his cell, or talk loudly.
Approximately $1 million has been spent on Hashmi’s imprisonment thus far. Is this trial about Hashmi providing material support to terrorists, in the form of allowing someone else to store raincoats and ponchos in his residence for two weeks, or is it about his willingness to speak up and criticize the government?
One must ask why Hashmi has been imprisoned under such harsh conditions for so long. Hashmi believed in free speech and wrote a research essay while at Brooklyn College on how American Muslims have been treated after September 11th. He was known to attend anti-war protests and speak out against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hashmi’s family has said that his constitutionally protected political activities, such as of protest and free speech, will be used against him in court for intent purposes, including videotapes of him at protests.
Is his imprisonment in solitary confinement for over two years based on allowing someone else to store rainproof clothing materials for two weeks, or is he being punished for his political dissent?
Psychologically, isolation is known to be extremely damaging. There has been no academic study conducted on isolation past 90 days – and Hashmi has been in solitary confinement for the last two years. Therefore, the effects of such long-term imprisonment are not completely known. Officials at Guantanamo say themselves that isolation is the worst form of torture.
There are many parallels between Hashmi’s story and of those detained at Guantanamo. Just like the hundreds detained at Guantanamo, Hashmi appears to be held due to guilt by association. His case and evidence is treated with excessive secrecy, as are the Guantanamo cases. And just like the Guantanamo camps, Hashmi is imprisoned under super-maximum security conditions.
Hashmi’s trial was scheduled to start today, January 6th, and is predicted to take place for approximately three weeks. His trial will take place in the US District Court on 500 Pearl Street in Manhattan, near Ground Zero. However, this trial date has been adjourned and a status conference has been scheduled for January 28th, 2010, when another trial date might be set. Public trials can bring more accuracy and truth. Hashmi’s family is urging others to come and observe his trial, when it finally happens, in order to show that the public is a witness to the proceedings.
Hena Ashraf is a filmmaker and a fierce advocate for the making and use of independent media. She can be reached at email@example.com. More information on Syed Hashmi can be found at freefahad.com.