UPDATE 14. November 2019: 10 Terrifying Facts about the East German Secret Police
One Day We'll All Be Terrorists
Syed Fahad Hashmi can tell you about the dark heart of America. He knows that our First Amendment rights have become a joke, that habeas corpus no longer exists and that we torture, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantánamo Bay, but also at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan. Hashmi is a U.S. citizen of Muslim descent imprisoned on two counts of providing and conspiring to provide material support and two counts of making and conspiring to make a contribution of goods or services to al-Qaida. As his case prepares for trial, his plight illustrates that the gravest threat we face is not from Islamic extremists, but the codification of draconian procedures that deny Americans basic civil liberties and due process. Hashmi would be a better personto tell you this, but he is not allowed to speak.
This corruption of our legal system, if history is any guide, will not be reserved by the state for suspected terrorists, or even Muslim Americans. In the coming turmoil and economic collapse, it will be used to silence all who are branded as disruptive or subversive.
Hashmi endures what many others, who are not Muslim, will endure later. Radical activists in the environmental, globalization, anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements — who are already being placed by the state in special detention facilities with Muslims charged with terrorism — have discovered that his fate is their fate.
Courageous groups have organized protests, including vigils outside the Manhattan detention facility. They can be found at www.educatorsforcivilliberties.org or www.freefahad.com. On Martin Luther King Day, this Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. EST, protesters will hold a large vigil in front of the MCC on 150 Park Row in Lower Manhattan to call for a return of our constitutional rights. Join them if you can.
The case against Hashmi, like most of the terrorist cases launched by the Bush administration, is appallingly weak and built on flimsy circumstantial evidence. This may be the reason the state has set up parallel legal and penal codes to railroad those it charges with links to terrorism. If it were a matter of evidence, activists like Hashmi, who is accused of facilitating the delivery of socks to al-Qaida, would probably never be brought to trial.
Hashmi, who if convicted could face up to 70 years in prison, has been held in solitary confinement for more than 2½ years. Special administrative measures, known as SAMs, have been imposed by the attorney general to prevent or severely restrict communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media and people outside the jail. He also is denied access to the news and other reading material. Hashmi is not allowed to attend group prayer. He is subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring and 23-hour lockdown. He must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. He can write one letter a week to a single member of his family, but he cannot use more than three pieces of paper. He has no access to fresh air and must take his one hour of daily recreation in a cage. His “proclivity for violence” is cited as the reason for these measures although he has never been charged or convicted with committing an act of violence.
“My brother was an activist,” Hashmi’s brother, Faisal, told me by phone from his home in Queens. “He spoke out on Muslim issues, especially those dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His arrest and torture have nothing to do with providing ponchos and socks to al-Qaida, as has been charged, but the manipulation of the law to suppress activists and scare the Muslim American community. My brother is an example. His treatment is meant to show Muslims what will happen to them if they speak about the plight of Muslims. We have lost every single motion to preserve my brother’s humanity and remove the special administrative measures. These measures are designed solely to break the psyche of prisoners and terrorize the Muslim community. These measures exemplify the malice towards Muslims at home and the malice towards the millions of Muslims who are considered as non-humans in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The extreme sensory deprivation used on Hashmi is a form of psychological torture, far more effective in breaking and disorienting detainees. It is torture as science. In Germany, the Gestapo broke bones while its successor, the communist East German Stasi, broke souls. We are like the Stasi. We have refined the art of psychological disintegration and drag bewildered suspects into secretive courts when they no longer have the mental and psychological capability to defend themselves.
“Hashmi’s right to a fair trial has been abridged,” said Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Much of the evidence in the case has been classified under CIPA, and thus Hashmi has not been allowed to review it. The prosecution only recently turned over a significant portion of evidence to the defense. Hashmi may not communicate with the news media, either directly or through his attorneys. The conditions of his detention have impacted his mental state and ability to participate in his own defense.
“The prosecution’s case against Hashmi, an outspoken activist within the Muslim community, abridges his First Amendment rights and threatens the First Amendment rights of others,” Ratner added. “While Hashmi’s political and religious beliefs, speech and associations are constitutionally protected, the government has been given wide latitude by the court to use them as evidence of his frame of mind and, by extension, intent. The material support charges against him depend on criminalization of association. This could have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of others, particularly in activist and Muslim communities.”Constitutionally protected statements, beliefs and associations can now become a crime. Dissidents, even those who break no laws, can be stripped of their rights and imprisoned without due process. It is the legal equivalent of preemptive war. The state can detain and prosecute people not for what they have done, or even for what they are planning to do, but for holding religious or political beliefs that the state deems seditious. The first of those targeted have been observant Muslims, but they will not be the last.
“Most of the evidence is classified,” Jeanne Theoharis, an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College who taught Hashmi, told me, “but Hashmi is not allowed to see it. He is an American citizen. But in America you can now go to trial and all the evidence collected against you cannot be reviewed. You can spend 2½ years in solitary confinement before you are convicted of anything. There has been attention paid to extraordinary rendition, Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib with this false idea that if people are tried in the United States things will be fair. But what allowed Guantánamo to happen was the devolution of the rule of law here at home, and this is not only happening to Hashmi.”
Hashmi was, like so many of those arrested during the Bush years, briefly a poster child in the “war on terror.” He was apprehended in Britain on June 6, 2006, on a U.S. warrant. His arrest was the top story on the CBS and NBC nightly news programs, which used graphics that read “Terror Trail” and “Web of Terror.” He was held for 11 months at Belmarsh Prison in London and then became the first U.S. citizen to be extradited by Britain. The year before his arrest, Hashmi, a graduate of Brooklyn College, had completed his master’s degree in international relations at London Metropolitan University. His case has no more substance than the one against the seven men arrested on suspicion of plotting to blow up the Sears Tower, a case where, even though there were five convictions after two mistrials, an FBI deputy director acknowledged that the plan was more “aspirational rather than operational.” And it mirrors the older case of the Palestinian activist Sami Al-Arian, now under house arrest in Virginia, who has been hounded by the Justice Department although he should legally have been freed. Judge Leonie Brinkema, currently handling the Al-Arian case, in early March, questioned the U.S. attorney’s actions in Al-Arian’s plea agreement saying curtly: “I think there’s something more important here, and that’s the integrity of the Justice Department.”
The case against Hashmi revolves around the testimony of Junaid Babar, also an American citizen. Babar, in early 2004, stayed with Hashmi at his London apartment for two weeks. In his luggage, the government alleges, Babar had raincoats, ponchos and waterproof socks, which Babar later delivered to a member of al-Qaida in south Waziristan, Pakistan. It was alleged that Hashmi allowed Babar to use his cell phone to call conspirators in other terror plots.
“Hashmi grew up here, was well known here, was very outspoken, very charismatic and very political,” said Theoharis. “This is really a message being sent to American Muslims about the cost of being politically active. It is not about delivering alleged socks and ponchos and rain gear. Do you think al-Qaida can’t get socks and ponchos in Pakistan? The government is planning to introduce tapes of Hashmi’s political talks while he was at Brooklyn College at the trial. Why are we willing to let this happen? Is it because they are Muslims, and we think it will not affect us? People who care about First Amendment rights should be terrified. This is one of the crucial civil rights issues of our time. We ignore this at our own peril.”
Babar, who was arrested in 2004 and has pleaded guilty to five counts of material support for al-Qaida, also faces up to 70 years in prison. But he has agreed to serve as a government witness and has already testified for the government in terror trials in Britain and Canada. Babar will receive a reduced sentence for his services, and many speculate he will be set free after the Hashmi trial. Since there is very little evidence to link Hashmi to terrorist activity, the government will rely on Babar to prove intent. This intent will revolve around alleged conversations and statements Hashmi made in Babar’s presence. Hashmi, who was a member of the New York political group Al Muhajiroun as a student at Brooklyn College, has made provocative statements, including calling America “the biggest terrorist in the world,” but Al Muhajiroun is not defined by the government as a terrorist organization. Membership in the group is not illegal. And our complicity in acts of state terror is a historical fact.
There will be more Hashmis, and the Justice Department, planning for future detentions, set up in 2006 a segregated facility, the Communication Management Unit, at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. Nearly all the inmates transferred to Terre Haute are Muslims. A second facility has been set up at Marion, Ill., where the inmates again are mostly Muslim but also include a sprinkling of animal rights and environmental activists, among them Daniel McGowan, who was charged with two arsons at logging operations in Oregon. His sentence was given “terrorism enhancements” under the Patriot Act. Amnesty International has called the Marion prison facility “inhumane.” All calls and mail — although communication customarily is off-limits to prison officials — are monitored in these two Communication Management Units. Communication among prisoners is required to be only in English. The highest-level terrorists are housed at the Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, known as Supermax, in Florence, Colo., where prisoners have almost no human interaction, physical exercise or mental stimulation, replicating the conditions for most of those held at Guantánamo. If detainees are transferred from Guantánamo to the prison in Thomson, Ill., they will find little change. They will endure Guantánamo-like conditions in colder weather.
Our descent is the familiar disease of decaying empires. The tyranny we impose on others we finally impose on ourselves. The influx of non-Muslim American activists into these facilities is another ominous development. It presages the continued dismantling of the rule of law, the widening of a system where prisoners are psychologically broken by sensory deprivation, extreme isolation and secretive kangaroo courts where suspects are sentenced on rumors and innuendo and denied the right to view the evidence against them. Dissent is no longer the duty of the engaged citizen but is becoming an act of terrorism.
Chris Hedges, whose column is published on Truthdig every Monday, spent two decades as a foreign reporter covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He has written nine books, including “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009) and “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003).
Southern California Journalism Award: Online Column/Commentary/Criticism
... and then in 2017:
Chris Hedges "Fascism in the Age of Trump"
•Dec 1, 2017
Journalist, author and war correspondent Chris Hedges spoke at The Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy NY on November 10, 2017 on fascism and empire in the age of Trump.
... and 10 years after the 2009 speech:
Chris Hedges Best Speech
... and he sees no way out by democratic means:
Chris Hedges & Abby Martin:
No Way Out Through Elections
•Nov 27, 2019
Abby Martin sits down with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges to discuss the ignored reality behind Trump, the bipartisan road from neoliberalism to fascism, how the Democratic elite are an institution of corporate power, and how there's no way out through the #2020election without destroying the system.
10 Terrifying Facts about the East German Secret Police
The Stasi's sole function was to keep the Communist Party in power. They didn’t care how.
By Laura Williams - 14. November 2019
Image Credit: Flickr-stephanr66 | CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
To maintain power for 40 years while their people starved and plotted to escape, the Communist Party had to get very good at controlling people and undermining anti-state activists. But outright street violence and assassinations weren’t good for the Party image, so the Ministry for State Security got creative. Better known as the Stasi (the German acronym), these secret police were the "Schild und Schwert der Partei" (Shield and Sword of the Party). Their sole function was to keep the Communist Party in power. They didn’t care how.
1) They Were Gaslighting before It Was a Thing
The Stasi were prolific gaslighters. In the 1950s, repression was brutal, physical torture. Early in the 1970s, eager to be accepted on the international stage, the East German Secret Police had to get more subtle. The aim of Zersetzung (a repurposed military term meaning disintegration or corrosion) was to “switch off” any activist individuals and groups who might threaten the Party. Police collected medical, school, and police records, interviews with neighbors and relatives, and any other evidence they could get and would then customize a direct hit on an individual’s mental health.
If someone looked like he might challenge the Communist Party’s legitimacy or control, the Stasi systematically destroyed his life. They used blackmail, social shame, threats, and torture. Careers, reputations, relationships, and lives were exploded to destabilize and delegitimize a critic. Some forms of harassment were almost comical: agents spread rumors about their targets, flooded their mailboxes with pornography, moved things around in their apartments, or deflated their bicycle tires day after day. Others were life-altering: Individuals labeled as subversives were banned from higher education, forced into unemployment, and forcibly committed to asylums. Many suffered long-term psychological trauma, loss of earnings, and intense social shame as a result of Stasi lies.
2) They Were (Almost) Everywhere
The Stasi had 91,000 employees at its peak—roughly one in every 30 residents was a Stasi agent. More than one in three East Germans (5.6 million) was under suspicion or surveillance, with an open Stasi file. Another half million were feeding the Stasi information. This level of surveillance and infiltration caused East Germans to live in terror—you really never knew if you could trust anyone—though most had no idea of the scope of these activities until after the Berlin Wall fell.
3) They Kept a Crazy Amount of (Meticulous) Records
Stasi files laid out together would cover about 69 sq. miles. Recording detailed personal information on a third of the populace required a tremendous amount of paper. More pages of printed text were generated by the Stasi than by all German authors from the Middle Ages to WWII. Thousands of citizens were targeted as anti-government “trouble makers,” their homes were searched, phones and cars—if they were lucky enough to have either—were bugged, their letters opened and copied, and their movements secretly filmed or photographed. Every document went into a personal Stasi file. So far, hundreds of millions of files, 39 million index cards, 1.75 million photographs, 2,800 reels of film and 28,400 audio recordings have been recovered from Stasi archives. Millions more were shredded before they could be made public.
4) Their Super-Secret Archives Are Now Public—Sort of
In 1992, the secret files the Stasi had kept on millions of East Germans were made available for review. Citizens can request to see their personal files, which are housed by the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives on 63 miles of dedicated shelving. Sixteen thousand sacks of shredded documents still await reassembly. The agency tasked with maintaining them employed at least 79 former Stasi members as late as 2007, according to Wikileaks. Three million individuals have applied to see their records, with decidedly mixed results. Many former subjects of Stasi investigation or surveillance found out only from these files—20 years later—that their parents, children, spouses, or lifelong friends had been informing against them.
5) They Stirred up Trouble in the Middle East
Stasi officers were highly influential in the Middle East, recruiting and training at least 1,000 military officers from Iraq, Libya, Syria, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The Stasi taught these foreigner agents how to hijack planes and take hostages. Where the Stasi didn’t succeed in placing its own trainees, it often sought blackmail material that could bend the will of foreign agents: Senior Stasi officers served as gardeners and groundskeepers in valuable embassies, listening in for juicy details. A complex web of West German infiltrators and enemy collaborators was discovered only years later.
6) They Paid Reparations to Their Victims—Kind Of
Of the 10,000 people who can definitively prove they were targeted by Zersetzung, some 5,000 had lasting psychological damage inflicted by their own government. Thousands more lost careers and marriages. Some were jailed or had their children kidnapped by the state. These victims, now officially recognized, were supposed to receive modest compensation. The promised reparations—still only half of what loyal Communists still receive in pensions—have been difficult to obtain.
7) The Stasi Operated Its Own Prison
Hohenschönhausen. Over 900 former inmates have given testimony about the horror that happened there, but while the Stasi were active, the facility was top secret. The area didn't officially exist and was marked with a blank space on city maps. In reality, most of the country operated as an open-air prison, as few people were allowed to leave the country on exit visas. The Stasi told the people,
doctors, engineers, and skilled workers were induced by refined methods unworthy of the dignity of man to give up their secure existence in the GDR [German Democratic Republic, aka East Germany] and work in West Germany or West Berlin.
For their own “security,” East German citizens were not allowed to leave the East German state. Those who tried were often jailed or killed.
8) Their Propaganda Was Weaponized—Sometimes Literally
Public schools in East Germany were training grounds for police state compliance. Young children cut and colored paper dolls with gas masks and AK-47s. Hitler Youth-style groups were established for school children. In the absence of Twitter and text messages, Stasi officers launched “metal coconuts” or “information rockets” full of flyers into the countryside. The people were told the Berlin Wall was a protective barrier against “a West German separatist state” bent on sabotaging their socialist state. Psychological operations were used to glorify the East German socialist state and smear the immoral, pleasure-seeking, capitalist West.
9) The Stasi Banned Porn—Then Filmed Their Own
Erotica—whether printed or filmed—was banned in East Germany, and was pointed to as evidence of the West’s decadence and depravity. But the Stasi filmed its own series of pornographic films, featuring civilian female employees dressed as soldiers. In one film, a topless female recruit in a helmet leaps to attention at the command, "Breasts Out!" The Communist Party elite and military officers turned out for the secret premieres of 12 films. Their attendance was logged for blackmail purposes. The official Department of Pornography employed 160 people and 12 amateur enthusiasts between 1982 and 1989.
10) The Nazis Wrote the Stasi Playbook
Psychological policing of Germany’s population—to root out dissenting voices and prevent people from challenging the government—had been the norm under the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s intelligence-gathering police. Nazis paved the way by using citizens as informers or denouncers.
In that kind of tattle culture, reporting your neighbors for minor wrongdoing might keep your own family safe. The secret police had so much personal information about each citizen and so much influence over institutions (whether you could get into college, get a job, buy a car) their power was almost absolute—and absolutely unaccountable. They didn’t have to arrest you—they could socially paralyze you.
(Large-scale data collection by today’s National Security Administration and Homeland Security follows the same pattern, according to well-known whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg. The “See something? Say something” culture of citizen informers, the collection of personal info without warrants, and the assumption of guilt all feel eerily familiar.)
Dr. Laura Williams teaches communication strategy to undergraduates and executives. She is a passionate advocate for critical thinking, individual liberties, and the Oxford Comma.