Monday, February 12, 2007

In His Own Words: Dr. Sami Al-Arian

“Much of the government’s evidence against me were speeches I gave, lectures I presented, articles I wrote, magazines I edited, books I owned, conferences I convened, rallies I attended, interviews I conducted, news I heard and websites no one accessed...In one instance, the evidence consisted of a conversation that one of my co-defendants had with me in his dream,” he said. “It was reminiscent of the thought crime of Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’ The scary part was not that these were offered into evidence, but that a federal judge admitted them. That’s why I am so proud of the jury, who acted as the free people that they were and saw through Big Brother’s tactics.

“I’ve been to nine prisons in nine months,” he explained. “I spent the first 23 months in Coleman Federal Penitentiary, where the conditions were Guantanamo-plus, that is they were like those of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay ‘plus’ one phone call a month and visits with my family behind glass. I was in a nine-foot-by-eight-foot cell, where I was held under 23-hour lockdown. During the first few months, they wouldn’t even allow me to exercise unless I was strip-searched, which I refused to submit to, so I was inside 24 hours. During the first month, I was allowed only one 15-minute phone call, and for six months after that I was not allowed to make any calls.

“I was shackled and handcuffed every single time I left my cell for any reason,” he said. “When I needed to take my legal papers for meetings with my attorney, the guards would not carry them for me, even though they did for other prisoners. Though I was shackled, they forced me to carry them on my back, as I was bent over. I had to walk like that for half a mile. I should also mention the use of fire alarms in trying to disrupt life. In the Special Housing Unit [SHU], a punitive section of the prison where I was the only pretrial detainee, alarms and emergency sirens would go off 15 to 20 times every single day, at 12 a.m., 2 p.m., any time of the day. It was a deafening noise that would continue for five to 10 minutes. It was clearly deliberate. In the SHU, commissary was almost nonexistent. All they offered was potato chips, whereas in the general compound everything was available. The SHU was designed for disciplinary purposes, not for housing a pretrial detainee.

“Not only did they place me in the SHU, but they imposed additional restrictions on me,” he went on. “For instance, everybody else was granted contact visits, while I had to see my family behind glass. They also insisted on strip-searching me before and after these behind-the-glass visits. In May 2003, my wife drove two hours to see me, but they denied her the visit when I would not submit to a strip search.”

By Chris Hedges (via Earthside). As Hedges notes, Dr. Al-Arian is currently on hunger strike. Hedges also reminds us that after the prison-industrial complex is finished with those "on the margins of our society", the rest of us are fair game. That's life in post-Habeas Corpus America. Bet on it.

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