Last Saturday hundreds of people gathered at Central Connecticut State University to participate in “An Injury to One is an Injury to All: A Conference in Defense of Civil Liberties and to End Indefinite Detention.”
With the goal of building ties of solidarity among groups feeling the brunt of attacks on civil liberties and civil rights – Muslims, immigrants, African Americans, social movements pushing for change – the conference provided both an historical perspective on the targeting of various groups and an overview of how the national security surveillance state that has emerged since 9/11 has made everyone a potential suspect.
Keynoter Glenn Greenwald pointed out that we are no longer dealing with a case-by-case violation of the Bill of Rights, but systemic violations that are becoming more all-encompassing the further we move from 9/11 and are transforming the United States. According to Greenwald, the continual dehumanization of Muslims as a target population has created mass acceptance of the notion that this group is collectively guilty, and deserves to be at the receiving end of kill lists and indefinite detention.
By identifying one particular group as the enemy without and within, 'war on terror' tactics can be imported from foreign soil to domestic soil to be used against ‘homegrown terrorists.’ And so today, Greenwald said, we have the NDAA which is designed to codify indefinite detention on US soil, as well as the increasingly rapid import of drones "which will soon be weaponized."
We have a public today that largely believes that the way the government acts is justified, and can turn away from what is happening since it is not directly aimed at them. They are unaware that the relationship between the citizenry and government has fundamentally altered. Many think that the abuse of power ended with the exit of the Bush Administration.
Then there are young people for whom the post 9/11 world has been normalized because they literally know nothing else. As for people who are in the know, they increasingly fear their own government, aware that there are no limits to what the government can do.
"But any structure that has been built by human beings can be dismantled by human beings," Greenwald concluded, urging conference participants to take up the task of convincing other Americans that we are all in this together.
The presentations from panelists and presenters at 12 different workshops gave examples of how people could work together to build grassroots opposition to indefinite detention, to police harassment and spying, to the ‘pre-emptive prosecution’ of Muslims, to the over-incarceration of the ‘new Jim Crow’ and the ‘Secure Communities’ deportation dragnet.
Powerful testimony about how to resist the politics of intimidation and divide-and-rule was provided by Tracy Molm and Tom Drake, union organizers and solidarity activists who have been served with subpoenas by the FBI.
The most harrowing stories were recounted in the workshop on 'Solitary Confinement and Torture.' Family members of those sentenced for ‘material support’ to terrorism described elaborate plots that were engineered by the FBI and their highly paid informers to ensnare their loved ones, or, in the case of Shahawar Matin Siraj, by the New York Police Department.
They talked about the conditions – including months and years in pre-trial solitary confinement, the lack of any kind of attorney-client confidentiality and threats that they would spend their entire lives in prison unless they agreed to inform on others – that led their loved ones to agree to accept plea deals.
One speaker broke down as she told of losing her job and being shunned by her neighbors. Another described what it was like to take her small son to visit his father at one of the two Communications Management Units (CMUs) built in Terre Haute, Indiana and Marion, Illinois to keep condemned ‘terrorists’ in conditions of intense isolation.
Shahina Parveen Siraj wrote these words about her son, Shahawar Matin Siraj:
My 19-year-old vulnerable son, who has an IQ of 78, was targeted and convicted for his vulnerability. NYPD sent undercover (Kamil Pasha) and paid informant (Osama Eldawoody) to my son. They paid the informant $100,000 to entrap my son in a bomb plot which was entirely concocted by the NYPD.
My son worked in an Islamic book store next to the mosque Bay Ridge Brooklyn. He was helping his disabled father support our family. He is kind hearted, respectful, and loving, naïve, and simple and easily manipulated by other people. When 9/11 happened my son wanted to donate his blood to the injured people.
The paid agent befriends my son, he claimed Shahawar Matin as his son. He drove him home. He manipulated my son to say hateful things by showing horrible pictures of torture of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisoners. He showed him a picture of US soldiers cutting bellies of pregnant Muslim women…First he inflamed my son, then blamed him and provoked him and told my son as a Muslim what is his duty? Informant told my son he is a nuclear engineer and Islamic scholar. He brainwashed my son by saying all these hateful things. All this time the informant was secretly recording their conversations. My son tries to withdraw from the plot several times saying that first he wants to ask his mother permission to participate. My son tries to refuse to plant a bomb because he didn’t want to kill anyone. This paid agent pressured my son again and again and he got angry at my son. He scared and confused my son. When the agent drove him home on 23rd August 2004 my son said sorry and left this agent and never contacts this paid agent again.
A few days later, just before the Republican National Convention, she says the police called her son at the store many times. On his way to the police station he was arrested. Then “they scared the American people by showing them in the media that they had caught a big terrorist. They use my son and won the election.”
After that, she says, he was kept in a cold solitary confinement cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn for 15 months, and sometimes spent days at a time locked inside without an hour for daily exercise. The family was not permitted to visit. He was given spoiled food to eat.
He was eventually sentenced to 30 years and in 2007 was sent to the Terre Haute, Indiana CMU.
After my son was sentenced, the same day at midnight, ICE arrested my whole family and put us in immigration jail. I and my daughter came out after eleven days and my disabled husband came out in six months and he is still in house arrest. Because ICE took our passports and IDs, I didn’t visit or see my only son for many years. NYPD destroyed my peaceful innocent family. They tortured my family and destroyed my children’s future.
The systematic targeting and discrimination faced by Muslim ‘War on Terror’ suspects in the US is the subject of a new report by Aviva Stahl of the UK group CagePrisoners, Guantanamo Begins at Home.
The report surveys the experience terrorist suspects face, from “the abuses that have happened before defendants even entered into the judicial system” to the “experiment in social isolation” in the post-trial CMUs.
It points out that the CMUs are not a ‘war on terror’ invention. They were preceded by supermax “control units” that were put in place in the 1970s “to neutralize activists imprisoned for struggling for Black and Third World liberation.” Today more than 80,000 American prisoners who are overwhelmingly poor people and people of color are consigned to solitary confinement in conditions that violate accepted human rights norms.
Ruth Wilson Gilmore, one of the founders of the prison abolition organization Critical Resistance, told the gathering in Connecticut that she knows a prisoner who has been in ‘the hole” since 1973.
Guantanamo Begins at Home concludes by making some of the connections called for by Gilmore and other speakers at the Connecticut conference:
Perhaps there are not simply parallels between the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay and inmates in US federal prisons. Instead, it is possible that the brutality that has long informed US prison practices has shifted to Guantanamo…it is crucial to remember that even if we could close Guantanamo Bay, it would not be sufficient. Individuals convicted of terrorism offences – along with all other prisoners in the United States – deserve to have their human rights respected, no matter what crime they committed.