My brother Ahmed Abu Ali has spent the past five years in solitary confinement, under 23-hour lockdown, in a 7-by-12 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. He receives the newspaper several days late, and if I send him birthday wishes, it takes 60 days for him to get them. When I visit him, once a year, I speak to him from behind a glass window. He is literally in a dungeon, more than 20 meters beneath the ground.
Ahmed is not in a foreign prison, nor is he in GuantÃ¡namo Bay; he is in a super maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo. Ahmed was not convicted of an act of violence nor was he charged with one.
In 2003, Ahmed, then 22 years old, was studying abroad when he was suddenly 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 corpus petition demanding his return to the United States, 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 charged him with nine counts of conspiracy. The only evidence presented was a confession tape obtained under torture.
Clearly, mistreatment would be an understatement to the draconian conditions under which he is held. Despite the fact that the alleged conspiracies did not result in a single victim, he is now serving a life sentence in solitary confinement under Special Administrative Measures. The SAMs limit certain “privileges,” including but not limited to correspondence, visits, media interviews and telephone use. SAMs also allow conversations between inmates and their lawyers 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 the SAMs even before his trial began. The SAMs can be designated by the U.S. Attorney General for up to a year and renewed continually thereafter resulting in perpetual solitary confinement, considered a form of torture under international law.
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 prison policy. Fahad Hashmi is a young student from New York. He was arrested at an airport in the United Kingdom and held in England’s notorious Belmarsh prison for 11 months. He was then extradited back to New York, where he has been held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center without a trial under the SAMs for the past three years. Furthermore, family visits and calls have been suspended. Fahad has been charged, but on the basis of flimsy evidence. While in the United Kingdom, he allowed an acquaintance to stay at his apartment for two weeks and the government alleges that the guest brought socks and ponchos during his stay that would later end up with al-Qaida.
Extreme sensory deprivation often leads to hunger strikes and results in the deterioration of prisoners’ physical and mental health. Psychiatrists, including Harvard University professor Stuart Grassian, have testified in court that such sensory deprivation results in psychosis in otherwise healthy prisoners. Last year, Ahmed’s conditions were so unbearable causing him to go on hunger strike for two months.
Fahad’s health has degraded immensely, which would have compromised his ability to participate in his defense during the trial that was set to begin April 28. Instead, Fahad reached a plea bargain the day before. Considering the abuse of sentencing led him to accept a chance for a lesser charge, the plea should not be presumed as an admission of guilt.
Ahmed or Fahad’s innocence is not the point, though 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, maltreatment here in the United States rarely receives media attention. President Obama promised to close down GuantÃ¡namo; let us demand that he closes down the GuantÃ¡namo-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 unwarranted punishments.
ariam Abu-Ali is a senior in the College.
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*CORRECTION: The article originally stated that Ahmed was charged by the Saudi government for conspiracy. It was the United States government that indicted him.”