News / USA

    Pakistani-Born New Yorker Faces Terrorism Trial

    They call it "Radio Free Fahad," the vigil held by friends and supporters of Syed "Fahad" Hashmi every two weeks outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. The 29-year-old Hashmi, a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen who grew up in New York, has been held here in pretrial solitary confinement since 2007.

    Supporters of Fahad Hashmi at a bi-weekly vigil in New York
    Supporters of Fahad Hashmi at a bi-weekly vigil in New York

    Multimedia

    Carolyn Weaver

    Every two weeks outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, friends and supporters gather to hold a vigil for New Yorker Syed "Fahad" Hashmi, an American citizen who has been held in solitary confinement for nearly three years.

    The 29-year-old - the first U.S. citizen ever to be extradited from the United Kingdom to the U.S. - stands accused by federal prosecutors on four counts of providing material support to al-Qaida.

    Fahad's brother Faisal attends every vigil together with their parents, Arifa, a housewife and Anwar, a retired city accountant.

    "My brother is charged with material support to terrorism, basically saying that he knowingly allowed someone to stay that had ponchos and socks in their luggage which were to be used for terrorism," Faisal Hashmi said in an interview.

    In 2004, an acquaintance from New York, Junaid Babar, stayed with Fahad Hashmi during a two-week visit to London, where Hashmi was a graduate student in international relations. "This person showed up in London and didn't have a place to stay, and basically called my brother to ask to stay with my brother," said Faisal Hashmi.

    According to court filings, Babar brought with him a suitcase containing raincoats, ponchos and waterproof socks that he later delivered to an al-Qaida leader in South Waziristan, a region in Pakistan. He also used Hashmi's cell phone to contact another al-Qaida member.

    Babar pleaded guilty in 2004, and became a cooperating witness, testifying in terrorism cases in Britain and Canada in exchange for favorable treatment. He's expected to be the main witness against Hashmi, whose trial opens April 28.

    "This case is a fabrication," Faisal Hashmi said. "There is no evidence that my brother had any knowledge of the sort. No charges were ever brought against my brother in 2004 by the British, in 2005. Not until 2006 were charges brought up to say that my brother had knowledge of socks in somebody else's luggage," he said.

    Hashmi was arrested at London's Heathrow Airport in 2006 as he was preparing to board a plane to Pakistan. He was extradited to the U.S. in 2007, after being held for months in the general population in a British prison.

    His case has become a cause célèbre among liberal justice groups who object as much to the extreme conditions of Hashmi's pretrial confinement in the U.S. as to the charges. Hashmi is alone 24 hours a day, under constant video monitoring. He has no access to sunlight and may not communicate with anyone other than his lawyers and immediate family.

    Anwar and Arifa Hashmi, parents of the accused
    Anwar and Arifa Hashmi, parents of the accused

    Biweekly visits are restricted to his mother, father or brother, but even those have been denied in the last few months, according to Faisal Hashmi. He says his brother's isolation amounts to "torture," noting that Senator John McCain said solitary confinement was the worst cruelty he experienced as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese.

    Political science professor Jeanne Theoharis taught Hashmi at Brooklyn College and helped to organize the campaign to publicize his case, including a recent fundraiser in Manhattan. She says the conditions of his jailing are tantamount to a Guantanamo being permitted in downtown New York, even as President Obama has vowed to close the prison in Cuba.

    "These kinds of conditions are inhumane, they violate international standards, they compromise people's ability and Mr. Hashmi's ability, to participate in his own defense," she said. "And frankly, they are un-American."

    Tony Barkow, a former U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, which is prosecuting the case, disagrees. He noted that courts have consistently found that such conditions do not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" in American law. "Whatever the psychological literature or opinion might be, the law is that those conditions don't violate the Constitution and don't violate the law and don't violate his rights," he said.

    The prosecution has argued in court that Hashmi's total isolation is necessary to protect the public, by cutting off any chance that he could communicate violent plans to the outside. Barkow says that is the correct thing to do.

    "Here is someone who provided assistance and resources to Al Qaida and who combines that with a belief that western governments should be overthrown," he said. "So, on its face that is a dangerous person who, if you accept those allegations to be true, is someone the law enforcement community has to do something about."

    Syed 'Fahad' Hashmi in a photo provided courtesy of his father, Anwar Hashmi
    Syed 'Fahad' Hashmi in a photo provided courtesy of his father, Anwar Hashmi

    As for whether the charges against Hashmi represent a prosecutorial overreach, Barkow said, "They'll have to show one way or another that he knew what the items were and where they were going: Either that he knew the ultimate recipient was Al-Qaida, or that he knew the person staying in his apartment was affiliated with Al Qaida."

    He added, "I recognize that the material support statues are very broad. And that's deliberate. Congress wanted the statute to sweep as broadly as possible, consistent with individual rights, in order to choke off the provision of resources to these organizations."

    But according to Emily Berman, counsel in the Liberty and National Security Project at the Brennan Center for Justice, "The prosecution and everything [Hashmi's] been subjected to seem wildly out of proportion with the allegations against him."

    "Much of the evidence is classified and there may be something we don't know," she said, "but certainly this man was not a linchpin in the Al Quaida organization. By all accounts, he was a good student and a leader in his community. And the guy whose allegations are serving as the foundation of the government's case has made a deal with the government to testify in order to have a reduced sentence himself."

    Hashmi is not charged with helping al-Qaida or any terrorist organization directly, but prosecutors have noted that he belonged to al-Muhajiroun, a now-banned British group that they say promotes the violent overthrow of Western society. They also allege that Hashmi threatened the lives of U.S. and British soldiers and officials when he was arrested.

    Hashmi's family and friends say he is a believer in debate, not violence, however. They contend that he is being prosecuted for his beliefs and opinions rather than for criminal acts. They say he was not the kind of man who would have supported violence.

    "My fear is they're going to use his politics to say that proves intent," says Jeanne Theoharis. She remembers her former student as "respectful," a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy, who listened to those who did not agree with him. She said his pretrial isolation makes no sense. "Babar was arrested in 2004, but Fahad did not get arrested for two years. If he's this dangerous person, why did [the British] let him stay out there for two years?"

    Some studies have found severe psychological deterioration after only two weeks in solitary confinement. Hashmi's supporters say that his three years in solitary confinement could make him unable to participate in his own defense. He could be sentenced to 60 years in prison if convicted on all four counts of conspiracy and material support to terrorism.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora