USA: Rights Groups Issue Open Letter on Hashmi Trial and SAMs

Press Release
April 27, 2010

USA: Rights Groups Issue Open Letter on Hashmi Trial and SAMs

Amnesty International USA, Center for Constitutional Rights,and
Council on American Islamic Relations - New York
Joint Press Release
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rights Groups Issue Open Letter on Upcoming NYC Trial of Syed Fahad Hashmi and Severe Special Administrative Measures

Contact: media@aiusa.org

April 23, 2010, New York The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), and the Council on American Islamic Relations-NY (CAIR) released an open letter today expressing their serious concerns about the trial of Syed Fahad Hashmi, set to begin on April 28. The human rights organizations discuss Mr. Hashmi's severe conditions of confinement over the last three years in which he has awaited trial, their impact on his mental health, and his ability to effectively participate in his own defense.

The material support charges against Mr. Hashmi are based on the allegation that he allowed an acquaintance, Junaid Babar, to use his cell phone and to stay with him at his apartment in London where he was pursuing a Master's degree. According to Mr. Hashmi's indictment, Babar had waterproof socks and rain ponchos in his luggage that he later delivered to al-Qaeda in South Waziristan. Mr. Hashmi denies all charges against him.

In their letter, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International USA, and the Council on American Islamic Relations-NY urge the Attorney General to review and revise the Department of Justice regulations governing the imposition of severe Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) to ensure that all prisoners are held in humane conditions, are not subjected to discriminatory treatment, are given adequate information about why SAMs are being imposed, and are given a full opportunity to argue and present evidence against their imposition.

Two days ago, CCR publicly condemned the government's attempt to frighten the jury in Mr. Hashmi's case, calling the U.S. Attorney's motion for the jurors to be anonymous and kept under extra security because of the attention and political activism these issues have drawn to the case "a clear attempt to influence the jury by creating a sense of fear for their safety and to paint Mr. Hashmi as already guilty."

Open Letter from Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Council on American Islamic Relations-NY on the upcoming trial of Syed Fahad Hashmi and the severe Special Administrative Measures to which he is subjected:

On April 28, Syed Fahad Hashmi is scheduled to be tried in the Southern District of New York on charges of material support for terrorism. Mr. Hashmi has been held in pretrial detention at the Special Housing Unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, pursuant to Special Administrative Measures, or SAMs, for almost three years now. These measures have severely limited his ability to communicate with the outside world and effectively placed him in solitary confinement, although he has not been convicted of any crime.

Mr. Hashmi is 30 years old, was raised in Queens and attended Brooklyn College before moving to London to obtain a Master's degree in political science. Since his extradition to the United States in May 2007, he has been imprisoned alone in a cell and not permitted to speak, worship or otherwise communicate with any other prisoners. He is not permitted any visitors or outside communications, except for his attorneys and limited visits from immediate family. He is not allowed any physical human contact, even from his closest family members. Mr. Hashmi is allowed one hour per day of physical exercise, which must be taken alone, in a small cage inside the prison. He is not permitted access to any natural air or sunlight. Moreover, Mr. Hashmi is subjected to a strip-search before his one hour per day of exercise. Due to the resulting humiliation he experiences, he has chosen to forego this hour outside of his cell altogether.

In addition, Mr. Hashmi is subjected to constant surveillance, not only when he is alone in his cell but also when he showers, uses the toilet, or meets with an attorney or family member. He may not communicate with any members of the media, and he is forbidden from listening to a television or radio news program or reading a timely newspaper.

Mr. Hashmi's family, friends and attorneys are extremely concerned that his mental health is rapidly deteriorating under these extreme conditions. It is well-documented that solitary confinement can have severely detrimental effects on a prisoner's mental health. It may also affect his ability to effectively participate in his trial and to present his defense.

Muslim community groups are increasingly expressing concern about these prison conditions, as they seem to be imposed disproportionately on Muslims suspected of connections with terrorism.

SAMs may be imposed on a particular inmate, according to the Department of Justice's regulations, when such measures are "reasonably necessary to prevent disclosure of classified information," or when "reasonably necessary to protect persons against the risk of death or serious bodily injury." To be extended beyond the initial 120-day period, the Attorney General or federal law enforcement must demonstrate that such measures are reasonably necessary "because there is a substantial risk that an inmate's communications or contacts with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury to persons, or substantial damage to property that would entail the risk of death or serious bodily injury to persons."

The material support charges against Mr. Hashmi are based on the allegation that he allowed an acquaintance, Junaid Babar, to use his cell phone and to stay with him at his apartment in London where he was pursuing a Master's degree. According to Mr. Hashmi's indictment, Babar had waterproof socks and rain ponchos in his luggage that he later delivered to al-Qaeda in South Waziristan. Mr. Hashmi denies all charges against him. These charges will be the subject of his trial.

We are concerned that Mr. Hashmi has not been informed of the reasons for the imposition of SAMs. We are also concerned that Mr. Hashmi is being held under conditions that are not consistent with international standards for humane treatment. Due to their likely impact on his mental health, we are further concerned that these conditions will prejudice his ability to assist in his own defense.

The Department of Justice stated last year that 46 inmates around the country were being confined pursuant to SAMs. Although we recognize that the department has a legitimate interest in protecting classified information that may harm national security and in protecting the public against acts of terrorism, we are very concerned that inmates held pursuant to such measures are not being given an adequate opportunity to defend against the imposition of SAMs in their cases.We urge the Attorney General to review and revise the agency's regulations governing the imposition of SAMs to ensure that all prisoners regardless of their security status are held in humane conditions, are not subjected to discriminatory treatment, are given adequate information about why SAMs are being imposed, and are given a full opportunity to argue and present evidence against their imposition.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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