Today, Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) participated in a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing on the case of Jacob Ostreicher. While Velázquez does not serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee, she was invited to participate as she has followed Ostreicher's case closely. Below is Velázquez's opening statement from today:
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Jacob Ostreicher's case is a stark reminder of the importance of due process in our legal system. The right to a fair and speedy trial is a fundamental principle in American society. Our founders recognized that without this cornerstone of American law, the government could arrest and hold citizens indefinitely.
"It has now been 370 days since Jacob was originally arrested. Yet, he has not been charged. The prosecution has not even presented any evidence of his guilt. While, initially, Jacob was to be released on bail, that decision was revoked. The judges in the case have been removed and currently no judge is presiding.
"Meanwhile, Jacob remains locked up at Palmasola Prison in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. That notorious facility was designed to hold 1,000 prisoners, but is currently home to 3,500 people. Unlike U.S. facilities, this prison is essentially run by the prisoners. Guards provide food and make sure prisoners do not escape but do nothing to maintain order within the prison's walls. Reports suggest that gangs control life inside the prison. At least once a month there is a "suicide" reported -- and critics suggest many of these deaths may actually be murders. Jacob has undertaken a hunger strike to protest his unjust treatment and there are now very real health concerns about his continued detention.
"While Jacob's case presents important issues about how the U.S. protects its citizens abroad, we sometimes forget the human dimension to these cases. We should keep in mind Jacob is not only a businessman. He is also a Brooklyn native and a pillar in our local community. He is a devoted husband, the father of five children. He and his wife are blessed with eleven grandchildren. Today, I suspect we will hear testimony from his family, not only about the legal status of Jacob's case, but also about the type of man he is and what his family has endured through this ordeal.
"Equally important, it is critical that we understand what the State Department is doing on behalf of the Ostreichers. Today, it is my hope that Jacob's family can share with us their experience of working with the State Department. I want to know what steps the State Department has taken that have already been effective and, more importantly, what more can be done to ensure Jacob sees justice.
"How the United States protects the rights of its citizens who are unjustly detained abroad goes to the core of our values as a nation. The way we respond to nations that ignore fundamental legal and human rights reflects on all of us. It is my hope that this hearing will bring additional attention to Jacob's case and illuminate what additional steps our government can take in pursing justice on his behalf."