A four-month hunger strike, mass force-feedings, and widespread media coverage have at last brought Guantanamo, the notorious offshore prison set up by the Bush administration early in 2002, back into American consciousness. Prominent voices are finally calling on President Obama to close it down and send home scores of prisoners who, years ago, were cleared of wrongdoing.
Still unnoticed and out of the news, however, is a comparable situation in the U.S. itself, involving a pattern of controversial terrorism trials that result in devastating prison sentences involving the harshest forms of solitary confinement. This growing body of prisoners is made up of Muslim men, including some formerly well-known and respected American citizens.
In the U.S. these days, the very word “terror,” no less the charge of material support for it, invariably shuts down rather than opens any conversation. Nonetheless, a decade of researching a number of serious alleged terrorism cases on both side of the Atlantic, working alongside some extraordinary human rights lawyers, and listening to Muslim women in Great Britain and the U.S. whose lives were transformed by the imprisonment of a husband, father, or brother has given me a different perspective on such cases.
Perhaps most illuminating in them is the repeated use of what’s called “special administrative measures” to create a particularly isolating and punitive atmosphere for many of those charged with such crimes, those convicted of them, and even for their relatives. While these efforts have come fully into their own in the post-9/11 era, they were drawn from a pre-9/11 paradigm. Between the material support statute and those special administrative measures, it has become possible for the government to pre-convict and in many cases pre-punish a small set of Muslim men.