Tricks of the Theatre


The following statement by Wallace Shawn and Deborah Eisenberg was delivered outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City on May 3, 2010 where supporters of Fahad Hashmi have been gathering since last October to bear witness to the inhumane conditions of Fahad’s detention and to call for an end to the US government’s use of “Special Administrative Measures,” solitary confinement, and gross abuses of due process in “terrorism” cases.  The statement comes one week after Fahad accepted a government plea bargain.

It’s obviously not irrational for Americans to be afraid of terrorist attacks or to try to prevent them.  But if we don’t arrive at a rational approach to dealing with the threat of such attacks, we will find ourselves falling to the lowest levels of a police state with the speed of an elevator whose cables have snapped.

At the start and at the finish of the Hashmi case, tricks of the theatre have been used to make a human being look terrifying to an audience.  By the extreme conditions in which he was restrained, he was made to seem like a dangerous animal, so ferocious that only the tightest and thickest chains could prevent him from eating us alive.  By the layers of isolation which kept him from communicating with the outside world, his words were made to seem so poisonous, so hateful and powerful, that if they could be heard they would knock down walls and devastate cities.  And at the end, the protection accorded to those who would determine his innocence or guilt made it appear that he belonged to a movement so vast and so mighty that it had more power than the greatest criminal gangs to strike down its enemies wherever they might hide.

In the face of these frenzied theatrical devices, which not only presume the guilt of the defendant but scream it out across the public square, it’s hardly surprising that the defendant has lost faith that our system of justice is really based on the presumption of innocence, and that, faced therefore with trying to prove a negative, that he is NOT a terrorist, to the satisfaction of a terrorized jury, he has decided to withdraw his claim of innocence.

Meanwhile, down the street, the criminals of high finance, who have undoubtedly caused the suffering and even the death of countless human beings, go unpunished and instead are rewarded with prizes of untold wealth.

Wallace Shawn is an actor and playwright.  Deborah Eisenberg is a writer, actor, and teacher.

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