On June 9, 2010, Fahad Hashmi (who held American citizenship) was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a U.S. court for "material assistance" to Al Qaeda: allegedly helping to pass a pair of waterproof socks and some ponchos, through an intermediary, to an operative in Pakistan. The intermediary was a "friend of a friend" who stayed for two weeks in Fahad's London flat while Fahad was a graduate student. Fahad didn't know the man, who brought two suitcases which remained unopened in a corner for his whole stay.
Fahad says he didn't know what the suitcases contained. The government's charges did not allege anything else had been passed, no weapons, no cash. Just socks and ponchos. Fahad passionately denied he even knew that socks and ponchos were in the suitcase.
Before his trial Fahad was held for three years in isolation under the War on Terror executive order called Special Administrative Measures (SAMs). SAMs allowed the government to keep Fahad in conditions which were described by Alexander Cockburn:
For the last almost three years, Syed Fahad Hashmi has been kept in total pre-trial isolation inside in a small cell under 24 hour video and audio surveillance. He is forced to use the bathroom and shower in full view of the video. He has not seen the sun in years. He takes his meals alone in his cell. He cannot see any other detainees and he is not allowed to communicate in any way with any prisoners. He cannot write letters to friends and he cannot make calls to anyone but his lawyer. He is prohibited from participating in group prayer. He gets newspapers that are 30 days old with sections cut out by the government. One hour a day he is taken into another confined room where he is also kept in total isolation.
Fahad's supporter website, FreeFahad.com, stated:
The government case and charges against Hashmi are surreal. Supposedly he allowed an acquaintance, who had waterproof socks and ponchos in a duffel bag, to stay at his apartment for two weeks. The government alleges that the acquaintance later delivered the socks and ponchos to a member of al Qaeda.
At the "terrorism" trial of Fahad Hashmi doctors testified that:
"after 60 days' solitary detention people's mental state begins to break down and gradually develops into psychosis as the mind disintegrates."
Hashmi was originally arrested at an airport in London (England) and extradited back the United States in June 2006. He is currently being held at the Federal Supermax Prison in Florence, Colorado.
Hasmi was held for pre-trial detention in 23-hour solitary confinement under special administrative measures at Metropolitan Correction Center in Manhattan, in a 7 x 12 foot cell. By the time his trial date approached he had already been held in isolation for nearly three years.
On April 27, 2010, just before the trial date was about to approach, Hashmi pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaeda. He was asked by Judge Loretta A. Preska whether he was pleading "because you are in fact guilty", to which Hashmi replied, "Alhamdulillah, yes." ( Alhamdulillah translates "Praise be to God" )
Some observers at the time questioned whether Hashmi was of entirely sound mind after being held in solitary confinement so long, and whether he might have been pressured into the guilty plea or psychologically coerced. Perhaps in Hashmi's mental state he was desperately trying to be removed from the harsh conditions of his imprisonment in hopes that the prison conditions would be better somewhere else.
Attorneys on both sides recommended a maximum prison term of 15 years. After hearing one of Hashmi's lawyers, David Ruhnke said that "He made the best deal that was available under the circumstances."
Despite the guilty plea, there is still some question about whether Hashmi actually specifically knew that the clothes inside the two briefcases were destined for Al Qaeda militants, or whether he should have known, or even whether the clothes were actually intended for Al Qaeda. He may indeed have simply brought them on the plane with him, as a favor to his friend, to bring to someone else.
Never mind all the assistance the U.S. had been giving to terrorists in recent years, with the conflict in Syria. Maybe they should let Hashmi out now. After all, it kind of makes the U.S. look hypocritical.
The Boston Globe's Sacha Pfeiffer wrote an article in 2007 that was critical of the government's War on Terror. The reporter was trekking through the Himalayas in Nepal when she and her companion came across a checkpoint manned by Maoist insurgency guerrillas who demanded a 300 rupee (approximately 5 dollars) fee for permission to pass. The U.S. State Department, however, had added this group to its terrorist list.
"In theory," wrote Pfeiffer, "this could expose me to prosecution since multiple laws, including the USA Patriot Act and something called the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, prohibit US citizens from funding terrorism." When she returned, she found herself worried about the payment, and began to make some phone calls "to ask about my legal status," including calls to the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State. "They squirmed a bit, told me Americans are advised not to travel to Nepal, mentioned the Maoists' terrorist status, and noted the relevant statutes." But what about the advice as to what to do next time should the reporter face a similar situation? "Their underlying message was this: Don't worry about it." But of course this "advice" was not in writing, and a reporter may indeed have to worry about it if they come back with a story critical of U.S. foreign policy or conduct, with numerous reporters having already been targeted by prosecutors in the past over technicalities in the law.