Not In Our Name
This testimonial is based on the anti-detention solidarity work of members of South Asians Against Police Brutality and Racism, a New York-based organization that has been organizing against racism and state-sponsored violence since 1997, specifically linking South Asian American communities to other communities of color.
America's "War on Terror" is nothing but a thinly cloaked discriminatory assault on immigrants. It is a war against civil liberties. It is a war against the people of Palestine and Afghanistan. It is a war against people of color. This war did not begin on September 11. As a continual act of violence against those abroad as well as in the US, it has been in existence for some time. The history of the US has been entrenched in racism and injustice: from the expropriation of Native American land to slavery; from the Japanese internment camps to the present-day persecution of Muslim, South Asian, and Arab immigrants to closed detention hearings. The Department of Justice, the FBI, and INS have been using secrecy and media lies as weapons. Through the following presentation, we bring stories from detainees as have been told directly to us. In this way, we hope to break the prevailing silence surrounding the persecution of immigrant communities within the history of this country.
Article 1 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment defines torture as:
any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether, physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for the purposes of obtaining information, a confession or punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed.
A 58 year-old Pakistani man has been held by the INS at Passaic County Jail for over seven months for overstaying his visa. He was arrested at a mosque in Brooklyn that INS officers targeted shortly after September 11. He was held in detention without probable cause for over two weeks. He has no connection to the September 11 hijackings. He told us the story of how he was arrested:
"They were waiting for us outside the mosque when we came out in the morning. They checked our identifications, searched us and then took us downstairs to search our belongings. After that, we went into the mosque. We performed the wazoo ablutions and prayed. Then we were shackled and taken away."
The INS moved this individual to the Special Housing Unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan without informing his lawyers. At MCC he was held in 23-hour lights-on solitary confinement and shackled hand and foot. The US Attorney's Office and the INS interrogated him without counsel by his side. He has testified that INS officers informed him that he could receive a green card if he fired his lawyers.
Article 2 of the Convention Against Torture states that:
no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
"Prisoners have been attacked and beaten by guards and other prisoners. I was hit in the face by another prisoner. Another prisoner was badly beaten by the guards. They came into the cell at 3am with dogs, for a search. The prisoners were made to stand facing the walls. One of the guards told a prisoner, 'Move over there.' The prisoner didn't speak English and didn't understand. When he didn't move, the guards beat him up. When the other prisoners tried to intervene, they set the dogs on them."
They searched the cells three times a month. The prisoners are subject to strip searches as well as body and cavity searches.
"This morning I realized the crime that I have committed. All my hopes and wishes were my crime. I realized that hoping to get out of this jail was a crime. I came to this country hoping that I would be able to make an honest living and support my family and enjoy the life of a free human being. That must have been a crime. I looked around the steel door, the reinforced walls and an empty ceiling not too high, and found no peace anywhere because I discovered myself as a criminal today."
"I served time like a convict. I did not deserve to spend those eight weeks of my life for a crime I did not commit. That time included the Holy Month of Ramadan and the festival of Eid at the end of that month. I was not a terror suspect at all. My crime was the color of skin I had, the language I speak, the religion I practice and the part of the world I come from."
Article 26 of the international covenant on civil and political rights, ratified by the USA, prohibits discrimination
on any ground such as a race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
A Pakistani man arrested in April lived with four other men who were of Indian descent. All of them were undocumented. The INS and FBI went to their apartment in Coney Island, and asked for their identification and immigration papers. They arrested only the Pakistani man.
Today, 314,000 immigrants in the US have outstanding orders of deportation. Out of them, 5,000 have been targeted by the INS and FBI for arrest. Attorney General John Ashcroft has said that these men, because of their Muslim contacts, might have useful information about terrorism.
The night before his hearing, a South Asian asylum seeker and several other South Asian men were put into solitary confinement at an INS detention center simply because they spoke Hindi and Urdu. An Indian man had drawn a map of the detention center and was caught by an officer. All the South Asian men were put into solitary confinement for one night.
INS detentions standards state that when a detainee's religion requires special food services,
staff will make all reasonable efforts to accommodate them. This will require, among other things, modifying menus to exclude certain foods or food combinations.
A Hindu couple seeking asylum escaped India because of persecution they faced due to their inter-caste marriage. They have not had physical contact with each other since August 2001. They are prohibited from talking when they pass each other in the hallways. They can only speak to one another twice a week on telephone across glass. Due to their religious beliefs, they do not eat meat. However, the detention center refuses to accommodate their dietary requirements by providing them vegetarian food.
Rule 21 of the UN Standard Minimum Rule for the Treatment of Prisoners states that,
every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits.
On May 13th Sheriff Jerry Speziale of Passaic County asserted that the county jail houses a clinic to which all detainees have access.
A 49 year-old Pakistani man was arrested in Long Island in April for having an outstanding order of deportation. In Passaic County Jail, he suffered severe medical problems due to complications from open heart surgery he had a few years before his arrest. In jail, he experienced difficulties breathing and chest pains, but even after repeated requests, he did not receive any medical care whatsoever. Despite INS regulations that detainees should have an hour of outdoor time everyday, he only was able to go outside once a week for one hour. He said the air conditioning vents had not been cleaned in years and air quality was very poor. "We are all suffocating in here."
These testimonies show that the experience of INS detainees mirror the persecution of their communities in the US and the war against Muslims around the world. The structure of international laws on civil liberties and human rights is being violated at the expense of those who are underrepresented and whose voices are ignored.