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20 Jan, 2010 07:15

Al-Qaeda suspect case could jeopardize US civil liberties

The case of Fahad Hashmi caged in New York has led human rights activists to take to the streets in defense of freedom which they say has come under threat.

Chants of “Free Fahad, free Fahad!” have echoed through the streets of Manhattan. Dozens are demonstrating in support of Fahad Hashmi. Most of the people have never met the 29-year-old man suspected of Al-Qaeda links, but his story is spreading and attention is growing.

Hashmi was arrested in Britain in 2006 on charges of supporting Al-Qaeda and subsequently extradited to the United States. He has spent 823 days in a New York jail, in solitary confinement, caged in a small space, isolated from nearly all human contact. As he awaits trial he has been prohibited from reading books, watching TV and speaking with the media.

Human rights activist Sharon Palpovich from “The World Can’t Wait” says Hashmi is being held under draconian conditions that have brought Guantanamo Bay to US soil.

“The US has done some bad things in its history, but this is really something beyond,” she says. “It is torture. Of course solitary confinement is torture. This has got to end. Surely the young man does not deserve this.”

Fasil Hashmi says his brother is being targeted for opposing US foreign policy and Muslim discrimination post-9/11.

“If they remove the rights of a Muslim American like Fahad, who has never been arrested, has a bachelor’s in political science, a masters in international relations, if they can terrorize his friends, his family and hold him worse than you’d hold an animal in a zoo – of course it can extend out to people, because it’s about the thoughts, the values and the beliefs of people,” Fasil says.

In light of recent events, including the attempted bombing of a US airliner, activists say profiling against Muslims is only getting worse.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges believes Hashmi’s case could set a precedent, where one day, anyone who dissents could be labeled a terrorist.

“Those of us who care about the protection of the rule of law and civil liberties, agitate and continue to publicize this case, because, if it’s allowed to continue, it won’t end with Fahad,” Hedges has urged.

The fight also extends beyond Hashmi. Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan says US foreign policy and drone bombings in Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan are bringing global conflicts to a boil.

“Nothing is going to change until we get away from this exceptionalism that says our lives are more important than their lives,” she believes.

Barack Obama vowed to close Guantanamo Bay in one year after stepping into office. Hashmi supporters say it is time for the American president to take action against violations of due process and inhumane conditions that they say are taking place at home.