Alleged Inhumane Conditions for Post-9/11 Suspects Sparks Global Scrutiny of U.S. Detention Policies

Watch the video interview, 13.35 minutes, uploaded on YouTube by Democracy Now at October 14, 2011.

Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, detention policies in the United States are facing increasing scrutiny both here and abroad. American citizen Tarek Mehanna is set to stand trial this month on charges of “conspiring to support terrorism” and “providing material support to terrorists.” Mehanna is accused of trying to serve in al-Qaeda’s “media wing.”  

He was 27 years old when he was arrested in October 2009 and has been held in solitary confinement since then. Mehanna was originally courted by the FBI to become an informant. Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights is hearing a case on the legality of extradition of terror suspects to the United States on the grounds that inmates are subjected to inhumane conditions of confinement and routine violations of due process. This could become a landmark case in human rights law, potentially damaging the international reputation of the U.S. legal system. To discuss detention policies since 9/11 in the United States, we’re joined by Tarek Mehanna’s brother, Tamer, and Gareth Peirce, one of Britain’s best-known human rights attorneys. She’s represented numerous prisoners held at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, as well as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. [includes rush transcript] … //

… AMY GOODMAN: Now, we don’t have much time, but talk about his first imprisonment and then his second imprisonment.

  • TAMER MEHANNA: His first imprisonment was in—he was arrested in October of 2008. And it came after approximately a six- to seven-month period of intense FBI pressure on him. What had happened was that, between 2005 and 2008, the FBI had placed considerable pressure on him to become an informant, because he was so involved in his communities. He was an ideal informant, because he was well trusted. Everybody knew him very well. And Tarek has a very distinctive character and very strong principles, uncommonly strong principles. So he was known to be very honest and a very sincere person. So, let’s say, if Tarek was to act as an informant, let’s say, as a cooperating witness in the case of somebody, then he would present a very believable testimony.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Gareth Peirce, I’d like to ask you, he has been now—his brother has been in solitary confinement, basically, since his arrest, 23 hours a day. This whole issue, as you’ve been raising, about the imprisonment policies here in the United States and how it relates to the general sense around the world, especially in the industrialized, advanced countries, about treatment of prisoners?

  • GARETH PEIRCE: Well, you might say it’s not our business, looking at it from the U.K., but it’s become our business because the U.S. has been attempting for some years to extradite a number of men from the U.K. on charges similar to that, very vague allegations of providing material support. But if here they would be confined—and this is agreed by the U.S. government—confined in complete solitary confinement, pretrial, for up to three years, enabling them not at all to do justice to their case at trial, they’d be broken men by the time they came to trial, in utter isolation. It cripples a human being.
  • But after trial, if convicted, they would face confinement in extreme, severe isolation in a supermax prison. And looking at it from the outside, we have been shocked and troubled at the extent to which men—perhaps women, too, I don’t know—imprisoned in the United States, some 20,000 prisoners, in extreme isolation, potentially for life, many of them serving sentences of life without parole.
  • Now, the point, the legal point, is this, where we’ve got to: the European Court on Human Rights has prevented those extraditions, and they will stop, and never happen, unless the court can be persuaded this does not violate the prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment. At the moment, the cases have achieved admissibility and permission, that they have a strongly arguable case that this will be prohibited in any European country. And that’s why it’s become a mutual issue for our two countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Tamer, describe your brother now. How long has he been in solitary confinement? Where is he? And what is happening to him? Have you spoken to him?

  • TAMER MEHANNA: Yes, my brother has been in solitary confinement for—going on two years now, two years of his life that he’ll never get back.

… (full interview text).

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