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08 February, 2016

A Guantánamo in New York

Before every phone call that Fatuma Hashi has with her brother Mahdi, FBI agents come on the line to tell her what she is not permitted to talk about. “You’re not allowed to speak about political issues. Or whatever’s happening in the outside world. Or his case,” she told The Intercept.

Mahdi Hashi, a young man of Somali origin who grew up in London, had never been to the United States before he was imprisoned in the 10-South wing of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan in November 2012, when he was 23. For over three years, he has been confined to a small cell 23 hours a day without natural light, with an hour alone in a slightly larger indoor cage. He has had no physical contact with anyone. Apart from occasional visits by his lawyer, his human interaction has been limited to brief, transactional exchanges with guards and a monthly 30-minute phone call with his family.

Yet most of Hashi’s time in solitary confinement occurred before he had been deemed guilty by the justice system. Prolonged isolation prior to or in the absence of trial, sensory deprivation, and a lack of independent monitoring are normally associated with the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and CIA black sites overseas. But the MCC’s 10-South wing, which houses terrorism suspects, is no different in these respects. A former MCC prisoner and a psychologist specializing in trauma told The Intercept that the kind of extreme isolation imposed on defendants there can pressure them to accept a guilty plea, irrespective of actual guilt.

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