Editor’s note: Marzieh Hashemi has since been released, though this does not excuse the treatment she has been subjected to.
by Ajamu Baraka, published on Black Agenda Report, January 23, 2019
The only reason our sister is being held captive is to once again demonstrate how a runaway slave is treated.
“Even the Bill of Rights doesn’t provide protections when you have been designated an enemy of the state.”
Arresting PressTV’s Marzieh Hashemi on no criminal charges demonstrates by any objective measure the United States operates as a rogue state in its utter contempt for accepted international human-rights law and standards.
Hashemi, an African American mother and grandmother converted to Islam, moved to Iran more than 25 years ago. She has become an internationally recognized journalist as a result of her press and media work in Iran, but specifically with her work on PressTV, an outlet that—like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the United Kingdom—receives most of its support from the Iranian government.
Hashemi flew to the United States to visit an ailing brother and to complete a documentary on the Black Lives Matter movement. She was working on this film when she was detained by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in Saint Louis. For two days, her family had no information on what had happened to her. When she was finally allowed to communicate with her children, they were horrified to learn that she had been disappeared by the FBI and moved to a detention center in Washington, D.C., where she was subjected to degrading treatment, including the forcible confiscation of her hijab, constant surveillance, disrespecting her halal diet as required of her adopted faith by feeding her animal products, and not informing her as to why she was being detained.
Over the course of some days, it was revealed that Hashemi was being detained either under the authority of the vague and sweeping new laws passed by the U.S. Congress that has given the president the power to indefinitely detain, disappear, and even murder citizens—or a dramatic and unprecedented use of the material witness statute.
The Strengthening of the Police State has Been a Bipartisan Affair
Arrest and imprisonment of journalists—publishers of “dangerous” materials—used to be actions associated in the popular imagination with “illiberal” states in the Global South. But with the current economic, political and ideological crisis in the West, the superficiality of the West’s commitment to “liberal” human rights and its rule of law has been revealed to the world over the last decade and a half.
The Patriot Act was the first in a series of repressive legislation passed just a few days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. This ominous development intensified the process of destroying any legal protection of human rights, which is recognized as fundamental to any democratic state and the international order. Built on the foundations of law that saw the erosion of habeas corpus during the Clinton administration, the act provided the mechanisms for the objective elimination of prohibitions by the state against unlawful, unreasonable searches and seizures and due process.
The expansion of repressive state power continued and even quickened during the Obama years. After ensuring impunity for Bush officials who were involved in authorizing torture and disproportionate military force in the execution of the war crimes of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration authorized indefinite detentions and military trials with Executive Order 13567.
But while that order gave the military more latitude to target non-citizens and deprive them of their rights, another question emerged: What would the U.S. government do with U.S. citizens working with “enemy states” and movements. That was resolved in 2012, with the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It provided the legal authority to indefinitely detain anyone—including U.S. citizens—holding them on suspicions, hearsay, secret evidence, or no evidence at all in the United States or abroad.
“The Obama administration authorized indefinite detentions and military trials with Executive Order 13567.”
And of course, we know detaining U.S citizens was not the most dangerous element of these new powers. Obama demonstrated a U.S. president could murder U.S. citizens—even a 16-year-old named Abdulrahman al-Awlaki—and get away with it.
Abdulrahman’s father, Anwar, was murdered by the Obama administration a few weeks earlier. Obama said adding Anwar al-Awlaki to his weekly kill list was an easy task for him. When gently asked by the corporate media about Anwar al-Awlaki’s due process under the constitution, an Obama spokesperson stated it had given him due process, a process not taken to the court but conducted within the executive!
Marzieh’s detention violates protection theoretically offered by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment that prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures”; the Fifth Amendment that affirms the right of “due process of law” in any proceeding that denies a citizen “life, liberty or property”; and the Eighth Amendment that prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments”—what Marzieh has been subjected to daily.
It is not even necessary to spend much time on the U.S. constitutional violations since it is clear that even the Bill of Rights doesn’t provide protections when you have been designated an enemy of the state.
Like any other rogue state, the United States determines its law supersedes international law. The United States signed and ratified just three of the main human-rights treaties, with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights being one of them. The United States is theoretically obligated to adhere to it. It says quite clearly in Article 9 that everyone has “the right to liberty and security of person” and “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.”
Hashemi Is Being Punished As a “Runaway Slave”
Reuters cited an unnamed U.S. federal source, saying PressTV is being investigated as an Iranian “propaganda outlet.”
But even with it increasingly becoming clear that Press TV is the target, it is also evident, according to Stanley Cohen, that the state is using the material witness statute in a very creative way to deny Marzieh her freedom.
There is no reason for Marzieh to be detained. With family in the United States and travel documents that could theoretically be seized if the state was really concerned she would not appear before a grand jury, the only reason she is being held captive is to once again demonstrate how a runaway slave is treated.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday the detention of the PressTV anchorwoman proves the United States is still violating the rights of Black people. He is correct.
On Wednesday, 23 individuals who make up a grand jury will be making a decision about Hashemi’s fate, according to her son Hussein. Her association with PressTV has put her in the crosshairs of the U.S. state.
For unknown reasons, she has now been moved into solitary confinement, according to her son.
But we, the colonized, the inhabitants of the zones of non-being, we who have no human rights—we understand.
“The message is clear—this is our nigger and we will do with her what we want.”
To have the audacity to leave the plantation that is the United States and seek a home in a nation the United States considers an enemy state is an offense that requires an extraordinary demonstration of white colonial power. This boldness may inspire others on the plantation to attempt to strike out for freedom. This is not even new. The state doubled the bounty on Assata Shakur to $2 million on the watch of its first HNIC because, after all, they are the ones really in charge. Yeah, we get it, if others don’t. The message is clear—this is our nigger and we will do with her what we want.
So, as attorney Stanley Cohen has written :
“Today Marzieh Hashemi sits alone. Isolated and entombed deep in a government catacomb, she stands charged with no offense but in the eyes of this administration guilty as charged . . . a Muslim, a journalist, and a U.S. ex-pat who has found shelter from its storm in Iran.”
But she is not alone. We will stand with Marzieh and give her voice when she has none. We are not afraid, even though we know we are next. Our people have endured this and more and will endure even more before this nightmare that is U.S. settler-colonialism is over. And unlike Dr. King, when our people and the people of the world emerge on the other side of freedom, we will not thank god for our freedom, but ourselves.
Ajamu Baraka is the national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace and was the 2016 candidate for vice president on the Green Party ticket. He is an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and contributing columnist for Counterpunch. His latest publications include contributions to “Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi”. He can be reached at: Ajamubaraka.com