I had just finished
reading the uncensored edition of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's book, In The First
Circle (Harper Perennial, 2009), when I came across Chris Hedges article,
"One Day We'll All Be Terrorists" (Truthdig, Dec. 28, 2009). In Hedges'
description of the US government's treatment of American citizen Syed Fahad
Hashmi, I recognized the Stalinist legal system as portrayed by
Hashmi has been held
in solitary confinement going on three years. Guantanamo's practices have
migrated to the Metropolitan Correction Center in Manhattan where Hashmi is held
in the Special Housing Unit. His access to attorneys, family, and other
prisoners is prevented or severely curtailed. He must clean himself and use
toilet facilities on camera. He is let out of solitary for one hour every 24
hours to exercise in a cage.
Hashmi is a US
citizen but his government has violated every right guaranteed to him by the
Constitution. The US government, in violation of US law, is also subjecting
Hashmi to psychological torture known as extreme sensory deprivation. The bogus
"evidence" against him is classified and denied to him. Like Joseph K. in
Kafka's The Trial, Hashmi is under arrest on secret evidence. As the
case against him is unknown or non-existent, defense is impossible.
Hashmi's rights have
been abrogated by his government with the allegation that he is a potential
terrorist or perhaps just a terrorist sympathizer. Another American citizen,
Junaid Babar stayed with Hashmi for two weeks and allegedly delivered ponchos
and socks to al Qaeda in Pakistan. Allegedly Babar used Hashmi's cell phone to
reach others aiding terrorists. The US government says that this suffices to
implicate Hashmi in Babar's activities.
Babar made a plea
bargain to five counts of "material support" for terrorism, but is working off
his prison sentence by testifying as a government witness in other terror
trials, including in Canada and the UK, and as the US government's only evidence
Hashmi's real offense
is that he is a Muslim activist defending Muslim civil liberties and making
provocative statements about the US. As Michael Ratner, president of the Center
for Constitutional Rights, has pointed out, federal courts have given the US
government wide latitude to use Hashmi's exercise of his constitutionally
protected rights to free speech and association as evidence of a terrorist frame
of mind and, thereby, of intent to commit terrorism.
professor Jeanne Theoharis warns us that an American citizen can now be tried on
secret evidence. "You can spend years in solitary confinement before you are
convicted of anything. There has been attention paid to extraordinary rendition,
Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib with this false idea that if people are tried in the
United States things will be fair. But what allowed Guantanamo to happen was the
devolution of the rule of law here at home, and this is not only happening to
reports that "radical activists in the environmental, [anti]-globalization,
anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements are already being
placed by the state in special detention facilities with Muslims charged with
terrorism." Hedges warns: "This corruption of our legal system will not be
reserved by the state for suspected terrorists or even Muslim Americans. In the
coming turmoil and economic collapse, it will be used to silence all who are
branded as disruptive or subversive. Hashmi endures what many others, who are
not Muslim, will endure later."
The silence of bar
associations and law schools indicates an astounding insouciance to Thomas
Paine's warning: "He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his
enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent
that will reach to himself." Some of my Republican and conservative
acquaintances are even gleeful that, finally, we are going to get tough and deal
forcibly with "these people." They naively believe that they themselves will
remain safe when law ceases to be a shield of the people and becomes a weapon in
the hands of government.
In "A Man For All
Seasons," Sir Thomas More cautions against cutting the law down in order to
chase after devils, for with the law cut down, where do we stand when the devil
turns on us?
fundamental questions are of no concern to the US Department of Justice (sic),
to Congress or the White House, to the "mainstream media," to the American
people, or even to very much of the federal judiciary.
pointed out in Salon (Dec. 4, 2009) that the Convention Against Torture,
championed and signed by President Ronald Reagan and ratified by the US Senate,
states: "Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are
found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or threat of
war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may be invoked
as a justification of torture. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of
torture are offenses under its criminal law."
Two decades later the
US government tortures at will. Justice (sic) Department officials write memos
authorizing torture despite the ratified Convention Against Torture, US law, and
the Geneva Conventions. The Pew Poll reports that 67 percent of Republicans and
47 percent of Democrats support the use of torture.
And Americans think
they have freedom and democracy and live under the protection of the rule of
The law is lost, and
with it American liberty.