No Justice in Kafka’s America
Posted on Jun 12, 2011
By Chris Hedges
In Franz Kafka’s short story “Before the Law” a tireless supplicant spends his life praying for admittance into the courts of justice. He sits outside the law court for days, months and years. He makes many attempts to be admitted. He sacrifices everything he owns to sway or bribe the stern doorkeeper. He ages, grows feeble and finally childish. He is told as he nears death that the entrance was constructed solely for him and it will now be closed.
Justice has become as unattainable for Muslim activists in the United States as it was for Kafka’s frustrated petitioner. The draconian legal mechanisms that condemn Muslim Americans who speak out publicly about the outrages we commit in the Middle East have left many, including Syed Fahad Hashmi, wasting away in supermax prisons. These citizens posed no security threat. But they dared to speak a truth about the sordid conduct of our nation that the state found unpalatable. And in the bipartisan war on terror, waged by Republicans and Democrats, this ugly truth in America is branded seditious.
The best the U.S. government could offer as evidence of Fahad’s crimes was that an acquaintance who stayed in his apartment with him while he was a graduate student in London had raincoats, ponchos and waterproof socks in luggage at the apartment and that the acquaintance eventually delivered these to al-Qaida. But I doubt the government is overly concerned with a suitcase full of waterproof socks taken to Pakistan. The reason Fahad Hashmi was targeted was because, like the Palestinian activist Dr. Sami Al-Arian, he was fearless and zealous in his defense of those being bombed, shot, terrorized and killed throughout the Muslim world while he was a student at Brooklyn College. Fahad was deeply religious, and some of his views, including his praise of the Afghan resistance, were to me unpalatable, but he had a right to express these sentiments. More important, he had a right to expect freedom from persecution and imprisonment because of his opinions. Facing the possibility of a 70-year sentence in prison and having already spent four years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement, he accepted a plea bargain on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism.
It has been a year since his 15-year sentence was pronounced in a New York courtroom. He is now held in Guantanamo-like conditions in the supermax ADX [Administrative Maximum] facility in Florence, Colo. He is isolated in a small cell for 22 to 23 hours a day. He has only extremely limited contact with his mother, father and brother, often going weeks without any communication. Between his transfer to Florence last August and this March he was permitted only one phone call. The rule of law in America, especially if you are Muslim, fits Kafka’s grim parody. The tyranny we impose on those held in Guantanamo, Bagram and the secret CIA “black sites” we impose on ourselves. This is and always has been the disease of empire. Empire imports the crude and brutal tools of control and violence back to the homeland. It creates internal as well as external colonies.
We no longer have freedom; there is only the appearance of freedom. We are consumed by an endless and vague war on terror in which the perfidiousness of our enemy, whose number, location and nature are never clearly defined, justifies the shredding of constitutional rights, torture, kidnapping, detentions without charges or trials and an occult-like battle against an absolute evil. And if you think the state intends to limit itself to the persecution of Muslims, especially once there is an increase in domestic unrest and instability, you know little about human history.
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Three law enforcement officials appeared at his home in Flushing, Queens, on June 6, 2006, to inform him that Fahad, who had been in London completing a master’s degree in international relations, had been arrested at Heathrow Airport on terrorism charges. Fahad, after fighting the order for 11 months, was the first American citizen extradited under the post-9/11 laws. He was taken in May 2007 to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan and placed in solitary confinement.
“I came to this country from Pakistan nearly 30 years ago, in 1982 with my wife and two young boys,” Fahad’s father said. “Coming from a Third World country, we were full of hope and looked towards America for liberty and opportunity. I had an American dream to work hard and give my sons good educations. I worked as an assistant accountant for the city of New York, six days a week, nine hours a day, including overtime, to support my family and to send both my kids through college. We all became U.S. citizens, and my sons fulfilled my dreams by completing their undergraduate and postgraduate education. I was very proud of them.”
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