Help to free Talha Ahsan

How does Asperger syndrome affect him?

The situation surrounding Talha Ahsan is further complicated because of his diagnosis of Asperger syndrome as an adult. This results in certain difficulties with communication, social interaction, flexibility of thought, and sensory issues that neurotypical people rarely encounter.

If Talha Ahsan is convicted of terrorism then a much stronger potential exists that he will face a longer sentence in harsher conditions than that which Gary McKinnon will receive if he is convicted of hacking. This is because the US has a strong desire to sentence suspects convicted of terrorism related offences to solitary confinement for life without parole.

When the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights rejected an appeal from Talha Ahsan challenging extradition to the United States, the unanimous decision from the judges affirmed the earlier ruling of the ECHR that "detention conditions and the length of the sentence would not amount to ill-treatment" if he was held in solitary confinement in ADX Florence. A week after the judges made this decision, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture resoundingly condemned it: "As we speak my office is sending a communication, dealing with the possible extradition to the US of five people who will be subjected to solitary confinement... The UN Convention Against Torture states you cannot extradite or deport someone to any place if he or she could be tortured". He concluded, "I think there (are) very good arguments that solitary confinement and SAMs (special administrative measures, which impose severe restrictions on communication with other inmates or the outside world) would constitute torture and prevent the UK from extraditing these men".

Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights states that none should face degrading treatment, no limits and no exceptions. In upholding that conditions of ADX Florence do not violate the ECHR, the judges specifically note, for example, that prisoners "received a free, daily copy of USA Today", and "have access to fifty television channels and seven FM radio channels". The implication, of course, is that torture cannot, does not, happen in such modern places.

Supermax prisons are intended to house criminals who are clearly and undeniably violent and physically aggressive individuals, many of which are mentally ill or have psychopathic tendencies. A significant proportion of them have a previous history of committing violence leading to serious injury or death towards officers and inmates in other prisons they have been detained in. The supermax regime which centres around solitary confinement and isolation is totally unsuitable for a prisoner convicted of a 'white collar' or a non-violent offence, even if it does amount to offering support to terrorist groups using only a computer keyboard.

Talha Ahsan is a sensitive and fragile individual who has had absolutely no previous history of violent or aggressive behaviour.

It is degrading and inhumane to hold a person with Asperger syndrome in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day in a bleak and cramped prison cell devoid of stimulation or regular contact with his family and his lawyers. Conditions resulting from the Asperger syndrome will be exacerbated and his mental health will rapidly deteriorate eventually leading to severe psychological problems. It is also equally a disgrace to detain a person with Asperger syndrome in solitary confinement whilst awaiting a trial. The effects it will have on him will include "cognitive vegetation" resulting in an inability to communicate effectively with his lawyers or to relate to the outside world. He will not be able to handle a trial where he has to prove his innocence.

Communication between staff and prisoners in ADX Florence, described as "interacting with an inmate" omits the fact that such interaction takes place through the solid steel door and / or the bars of the prisoner's cell. Face to face meetings with lawyers or family members take place in a room where the prisoner is separated by a glass screen (which is translucent rather than transparent) and talks using a telephone.

Services and facilities for prisoners with Asperger Syndrome - which includes communication skills training, social skills training, and other group therapies in situations where the prisoner interacts with other people - are unavailable in supermax prisons. Neither do the prison staff receive any professional training about Asperger syndrome so they are unlikely to possess an in-depth knowledge of the condition.

A quote by his lawyer Gareth Peirce: "Talha is a vulnerable individual just like Gary McKinnon. He can barely survive in what are more benign conditions in Long Lartin in Worcestershire. How either of them will cope in extreme isolation in America?"

Whilst in prison in the UK he has assisted English classes for foreign nationals, completed courses in computing and mentoring, and has won prizes for his creative writing - including the Platinum Award for his poem "Grieving" at the Koestler awards 2012, and a further Bronze award for his poetry collection of the same title. Seventy years solitary confinement in an American supermax prison will deny him all opportunity to be the productive and supportive person that he is. It is highly likely that he will die within a year or two.

Continue reading - A summary of the Extradition Act

Continue reading - Asperger syndrome in more detail

Print  Print