A letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder today by several civil rights groups expresses “urgent concern about Syed Fahad Hashmi’s conditions of confinement.” The letter, from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the Council on American-Islamic Relations of New York (CAIR-NY), Educators for Civil Liberties, and the Muslim Justice Initiative, reads in part:
For nearly three years before his case was scheduled to go to trial in April 2010, Syed Fahad Hashmi was held in solitary confinement under “Special Administrative Measures” (SAMs), which added a severe additional layer of isolation to his confinement. Numerous civil liberties organizations, human rights groups and concerned citizens called attention to the severity and inhumanity of these pretrial conditions of confinement. These included a Statement of Concern signed by 550 academics and writers…and weekly vigils outside the prison in lower Manhattan where Syed Hashmi was held.
Facing four counts and a possible 70-year sentence, Syed Hashmi accepted a plea bargain on the eve of trial and pleaded guilty to a single terrorism charge of “conspiracy to provide material support” for allowing an acquaintance to stay in his apartment with a suitcase of waterproof socks and rain ponchos which the acquaintance then took to Al Qaeda in Pakistan. For this, he was sentenced to 15 years. Over the summer he was moved to the high-security prison at the Florence Correctional Center in Florence, Colorado. He remains in solitary confinement and under SAMs.
Scholarly and medical research has overwhelmingly demonstrated the severe health effects of prolonged solitary confinement; military officials and Vietnam veterans including Senator John McCain have testified to its damaging results. The use of prolonged solitary confinement puts the United States increasingly out of step with world opinion and is an affront to American values of civil rights and humane treatment. Other people convicted of terrorism-related charges, including John Walker Lindh, Richard Reid, and Matt Hale have seen their SAMs not renewed. We ask the U.S. Department of Justice to not renew Syed Hashmi’s SAMs and to end his solitary confinement.
As the letter describes, Hashmi’s conditions of confinement were at one time the focus of high-profile protests–in part because he had not yet been convicted of any crime, but perhaps also because he was being held in these torturous conditions right in the middle of downtown Manhattan. Now Hashmi has been placed in the solitary confinement capital of the world, where there will be no candlelight vigils for him or for any of the hundreds of other human being living in similar conditions.
As we noted in an earlier post, the complex of federal and state prisons in and around Cañon City, Colorado, contains some 1,400 solitary confinement cells. Hashmi shares ADX Florence, the most secure prison in the federal system, with about 400 others. Even if the Justice Department lifts his Special Administrative Measures–which impose additional restrictions on communications and visitation–he will be held in extreme isolation in a prison described by one former warden as “a clean version of hell.”
Hashmi, as the letter states, is subject to this punishment because he consorted with someone who sent socks to Al Qaeda. This may seem like an extreme case, but it is not an isolated one. Among the 1,400 other men in solitary confinement in Cañon City, many are there for such offenses as fighting with other inmates or guards, being identified as gang members, trying to escape, having contraband, or failing to follow orders. Still others are there, effectively, because they are Muslims, because they suffer from mental illness, or because they are children.* Any of these things can condemn a prisoner to spending months or years living in conditions that much of the world considers torture.
* See the most recent additions to our new video collection for examples from the supermax Colorado State Penitentiary.