A chapter closed this week in the case of Syed Fahad Hashmi. As supporters packed the courtroom and two overflow rooms at 500 Pearl Street, Judge Loretta Preska pronounced a sentence of 15 years, the maximum allowed for under the plea bargain accepted by Fahad after nearly 3 years in severe solitary confinement. Referring to Fahad’s “violent ideology” and suggesting the need for a strong “public deterrent”, the judge accepted and reinforced the prosecution’s assertion that Fahad had spent years developing a dangerous ideology and was only waiting for the moment to act on it- a notion rendered absurd when considering that this action the prosecution is referring to consisted of allowing an acquaintance to stay at his apartment and having some knowledge of what this acquaintance planned to do with a bag of waterproof socks and ponchos.
Prior to the sentencing Fahad addressed the court and his supporters, making his first public statement since being arrested in 2006. As he began his statement, Judge Preska stopped him abruptly, asking him to go slower so he could be understood and so that the court stenographer could take down his words. In apologizing for his rapid speech, Fahad explained that because of the Special Administrative Measures he has been under, he had not really spoken very much to people for the past 3 years. As he continued, it was clear that despite the harrowing treatment Fahad has endured, he was still the student his former professor Jeanne Theoharis often makes reference to, alive if not well, searching to engage others with intellect and reason.
He provided an account of what had happened from his perspective, cited numerous hadiths from the Quran, and explained to the court how he has come to understand his situation in regards to Islamic law. Speaking in terms of a “covenant” Fahad conceded that he made a mistake in allowing Junaid Babar to stay with him at his London apartment, and that as a Muslim citizen of the US, by taking certain actions, he broke a covenant with the state. But he also alleged that the government had violated its covenant with him and other Muslim citizens, using the opportunity to set the record straight concerning the various lies the government has told about him over the course of his incarceration, as well as pointing to the broader pattern of abuse of Muslim prisoners. Assistant US Attorney Brendon McGuire and Judge Preska (not to mention Attorney General Eric Holder) would do well to think about their own role in the latter, though it is doubtful they will anytime soon.
Fahad also thanked all his supporters, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, and asked for forgiveness from all those he had caused pain. During these statements, tears were shed by Fahad and by many in the gallery. In a rare and spontaneous recognition of Fahad’s humanity, one of the judge’s clerks brought a box of tissues first to Fahad, and then later to some of his family. Unfortunately, this sort of recognition had little room to breathe in the courtroom, and moments later prosecutors were once again “othering” Fahad as a dangerous terrorist, providing Judge Preska with a warm-up act for her coldly rendered decision.
Fahad now faces a new chapter in his incarceration, one that will bring with it new challenges and abuses— spiritual, psychological, and Constitutional. There is a good chance he will be sentenced to the ADX Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado where he will remain in solitary confinement. And there is still the issue of the Special Administrative Measures, which are still in place, further restricting Fahad’s contact with family, his ability to pray with fellow Muslims, as well as his access to information. As violations of Fahad’s rights as a citizen and human being persist, revealing a larger systemic problem of how the US treats prisoners, vigils outside the Metropolitan Correction Center in lower Manhattan will continue until Fahad is transferred elsewhere.