NEW YORK — On October 26, between 6 and 7 p.m., the 2nd Monday THAW (Theaters Against War) vigil outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center took place. Fahad Hashmi, an American citizen, has been held there for 2 1/2 years while waiting to go on trial. He is being charged with 2 counts of providing and conspiracy to provide material support to Al Qaeda and 2 counts of making and conspiracy to make a contribution of goods or services to Al Qaeda. His trial is scheduled to take place on November 30th.
Hashmi has consistently maintained that he is innocent. His family and a large group of supporters from both inside and beyond his community believe that he is innocent. At all pre-trial hearings the courtroom is packed to capacity. There is also a growing group of people who object to the terms of his imprisonment which, they maintain, amount to cruel and unusual punishment of someone who has, thus far, not been convicted of anything. Under the special administrative measures (SAMs) he is being held under a kind of enhanced solitary confinement. He cannot communicate with anyone inside the prison (other than officials), neither other prisoners nor guards. Family visits are limited to 1 person every 2 weeks for 1 1/2 hours and cannot involve physical contact. He may write 1 letter a week, no more than 3 pages, to a family member. He may read only certain portions of newspapers after they are 30 days old. He cannot listen to news oriented radio stations. He cannot participate in group prayer. He is electronically monitored 24 hours a day – including when taking care of body functions. He is allowed 1 hour of exercise a day, alone and in a cage.
There is now an increased understanding that living under these conditions for a prolonged period of time may have very severe consequences for Hashmi’s mental state. It may also make it difficult for him to participate in his own defense. But, beyond that, there is an even bigger issue. Should people, especially those who have not been convicted of any crime, be incarcerated for long periods under conditions that are clearly punitive and that amount to mental torture. The people gathering at the THAW vigil would answer, “No”.
Last week actors Wallace Shawn and Kathleen Chalfant joined the 50 people at the vigil. This week Bill Irwin, an actor, and Remi Kanazi, a Palestinian-American poet, were there. There was street theater, scenes from pre-trial hearings, both Shawn and Irwin read from 30 day old newspapers, Shawn read from his play, “Fever”, and Irwin spoke of the historical role of theater in issues of war and peace. Two kneeling people wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods were there to remind participants of the connection between the conditions at Guantanamo and these at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
The vigils opposite 150 Park Row in lower Manhattan will continue for the foreseeable future. For additional information see:
and to view a video of the events search Youtube, Radio Free Fahad.