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What Is Happening to Muslims Will Happen to the Rest of Us

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Posted on Oct 1, 2012
AP/Steve Miller

The view inside a supermax prison in Connecticut.

By Chris Hedges

(Page 2)

There are currently an estimated 25,000 prisoners imprisoned in supermax facilities. They are disproportionately Muslims and people of color. Many, including Hashmi, Dritan Duka, Oussama Kassir and Seifullah Chapman, were not found by the courts to be involved in specific terrorist plots but instead were incarcerated under these conditions for their “material support” to terrorism. The prisons are equipped with special housing units for those who do not show a proper deference to authority. These “H-units” hold prisoners under special administration measures, or SAMs. They live in cells of only 75 to 85 square feet. They endure almost complete social isolation and sensory deprivation as well as round-the-clock electronic surveillance. And it is in these units that even the most resilient are psychologically destroyed.

Prolonged isolation, says Craig Haney, a psychologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz who has studied the effects of solitary confinement, eventually induces “appetite and sleep disturbances, anxiety, panic, rage, loss of control, paranoia, hallucinations and self-mutilations” as well as “cognitive dysfunction ... hopelessness, a sense of emotional breakdown ... and suicidal ideation and behavior.” Haney found that “many of the negative effects of solitary confinement are analogous to the acute reactions suffered by torture and trauma victims.”

Masri, a burly man who once was a bouncer in a nightclub, is accused of 11 terrorism charges, including attempting to set up a terrorism training camp in a remote area of Oregon and involvement in a kidnapping in Yemen in 1999 in which three British tourists were killed. He was based at north London’s Finsbury Park mosque, which I visited several times when I was covering al-Qaida for The New York Times. His rhetoric was always incendiary and conspiratorial, assuring him press coverage, which I suspected he coveted. He called the 9/11 attacks a Jewish plot and the Columbia space shuttle explosion “punishment from God.” Richard Reid, the hapless shoe bomber, whose past associations I was investigating in London, attended the mosque. Masri was never an important Muslim leader in Britain or abroad. He made headlines mostly because he sought them. He was jailed last year in Britain on charges of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred. And at that point the U.S. began the process of extradition.

Masri faces the possibility of life imprisonment. He will be extradited with four others, including Khaled al-Fawwaz, a Saudi national, and Adel Abdul Bary, another Egyptian. These two men are accused of having been aides to Osama bin Laden in London and allegedly taking part in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa in which more than 200 people were killed and thousands injured. Babar Ahmad, a British citizen in detention since 2004, will also be extradited. He, along with Talha Ahsan, is accused of using his now-closed website, Azzam.com, to support terrorism. Ahmad has been held in custody in Britain without trial for nearly eight years.

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The ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, handed down Sept. 24 after the men requested that the court block their extradition, in essence certifies that U.S. prison standards are compatible with European human rights. This opens the door for any European nation receiving extradition requests from the U.S. to swiftly turn prisoners over to U.S. authorities. The ruling came despite the fact that 26 human rights groups including the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Human Rights First supported the prisoners’ contention that they would be housed in inhuman conditions in the United States. The human rights groups predicted that the court’s ruling would have “serious implications … for legitimizing the use of conditions of confinement that violate human rights.”


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