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July 29, 2015

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reprieve Encourages Supporters to Write to Prisoners in Guantánamo

From Andy Worthington´s Blog:

19.1.11
In the Guardian’s Comment is free yesterday, Cortney Busch of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 of the remaining 173 prisoners in Guantánamo, encouraged Guardian readers to write to prisoners who might be losing hope because of the failure of the Obama administration to close the prison as promised — and as I described in my recent articles, Guantánamo Forever? and The Political Prisoners of Guantánamo.
Writing to the prisoners is an excellent idea, and one that I last helped promote last June, when some Facebook friends and activists took it upon themselves to encourage people to write to all the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo. I’m also pleased to have helped to encourage people to write to prisoners through my involvement in the creation of a short film of former prisoner Omar Deghayes showing cards and letters he received while in Guantánamo, and speaking about what they meant to him and to the other prisoners, which was filmed as part of the making of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” and is included in the promotion for Amnesty International’s letter-writing campaign.

I’m pleased, therefore, to cross-post Cortney’s article below — and am also pleased that she specifically mentioned Younous Chekkouri, described as “one of the most peaceful and cooperative” prisoners, whose calmness and intelligence struck me when I was researching my book The Guantánamo Files five years ago, and trawling through the publicly available documents released (after a lawsuit) by the Pentagon.
I was delighted to hear that Younous “comes to each attorney meeting with a stack of pictures of roses to distribute to [Cortney's] Reprieve colleagues as tokens of thanks,” and also to discover that he is a Sufi — something that, in all these years, I had never discovered. However, I also fear that, despite his formidable inner peace, and his valid explanations for being in Afghanistan (available here), Younous is regarded as one of the 48 prisoners that the Obama administration intends to hold indefinitely without charge or trial.

Pen pals can give hope to Guantánamo prisoners
Cortney Busch, The Guardian, January 18, 2011

The latest US legislation is causing dozens held at Guantánamo Bay to lose hope — but you can make a difference

When Reprieve attorney Cori Crider met her youngest client, 19-year-old Mohammed el Gharani, before his release from Guantánamo Bay in 2009, he made an unexpected request. He asked if she knew how he could get hold of some books, ideally on history or politics, to help him prepare himself for the outside world.

Mohammed had been sold to the US for a bounty when he was just 14, and spent his school years in Guantánamo’s military prison. He was worried that he would appear ignorant when he emerged. Reprieve put out a call and was quickly inundated with donated books, which Mohammed received with delight. But what encouraged him most were the hundreds of notes scrawled inside the covers — messages of humanity and kindness that Guantánamo prisoners rarely, if ever, receive.

Today Mohammed is a free man, and working hard at setting up his own laundrette in Chad. But many of his fellow detainees remain imprisoned — and have just been dealt a fresh and crushing blow. The National Defense Authorization Act 2011, recently signed into US law, bans the use of military funds to bring Guantánamo prisoners before US civilian courts — and makes releasing the 89 men who are already cleared to leave much more difficult. President Obama has criticised these provisions, promising to repeal them or to mitigate their effects. But for the moment the mood among Guantánamo’s prisoners is distinctly gloomy. This is why Reprieve is now asking people to take the unusual step of writing them letters of support.

A Guantánamo pen pal may seem a daunting prospect, but from my trips to the island prison over the past year I can personally recommend Younous Chekkouri, widely regarded as one of the most peaceful and cooperative detainees. He bears no ill will towards Americans and comes to each attorney meeting with a stack of pictures of roses to distribute to my Reprieve colleagues as tokens of thanks. Far from being a violent jihadi, Younous is a Sufi — a strikingly benign strand of Islam that values love and peace above all.

So how did such a person end up in Guantánamo? Much like Mohammed el Gharani, Younous was “sold” to the Americans. When the US declared war on Afghanistan in 2001, Younous and his wife fled Kabul for Pakistan, only to find that men of Arabic descent had become precious commodities. American forces were offering bounties of $5,000 (£3,125) per head to anyone who handed over a “terrorist”. The fliers offering the money promised schools, doctors, housing and unimaginable wealth for the reader and the community. Hundreds of people were rounded up, arrested en masse and sold to the US, and Younous found himself caught up in one of these sweeps and ultimately transferred to Guantánamo Bay.

Almost nine years later, Younous, like dozens of other men still held at Guantánamo, has never been charged with a crime or given the chance to clear his name. In fact, his challenge to his detention has only just reached the courtroom. As a member of Younous’s legal team, I know we have a good case that should soon, by rights, set him free. But I also know that Younous, like the other 172 men left in Guantánamo, is now beginning to despair of ever being released.

For many of these men, the last eight or nine years have been spent hundreds of miles from family and friends, without compassion and very little hope. Yet these are perhaps their darkest days yet. Please consider writing one of them a letter. As with the messages scrawled in Mohammed’s books, even the smallest word of encouragement lets them know they are not forgotten.

For details on how to write to one of Guantánamo’s “forgotten” prisoners, please visit this page on Reprieve’s website.

Note: Reprieve’s initiative contains the names and brief stories of some of the 173 men still held, and the following instructions for those planning to write:
Please address all letters to:
Detainee Name
Detainee ISN
Guantánamo Bay
P.O. Box 160
Washington, D.C. 20053
United States of America
Include a return address on the envelope.

Further information about prisoners to whom readers might want to write is available on the page I compiled last June for a similar project, Write to the Forgotten Prisoners in Guantánamo, and more detailed information about the men still held can be found in my nine-part series profiling the men still held, available via the following page: Introducing the Definitive List of the Remaining Prisoners in Guantánamo.

And finally, the short video below is of Mohammed El-Gharani thanking supporters for the many books that they sent him after Reprieve launched a campaign to help him:


Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A great rally, a great victory for the Lucasville hunger strikers

January 15, 2011
by Denis O’Hearn
SF Bay View and Facebook

Jan. 15, 4:33 p.m. – I have a short report on today’s rally at the Ohio State Penitentiary in support of the three men on hunger strike. But first, I can now report to you the wonderful news that all three have resumed eating because they achieved a victory. The prison authorities have provided, in writing, a set of conditions that virtually meets the demands set out by Bomani Shakur in his letter to Warden Bobby, provided below.
Ohio State Penitentiary
The hunger strikers send you all thanks for your support and state that they couldn’t have won their demands without support from people from around the world. But they add to their statement the following: This time they were fighting about their conditions of confinement, but now they begin the fight for their lives.

They were wrongfully convicted of complicity in 1993 murders in Lucasville prison and have faced retribution because they refused to provide snitch testimony against others who actually committed those murders. Now, because of Ohio’s – and other states’ – application of the death penalty, they still face execution at a future date. Ohio is today exceeded only by Texas in its enthusiasm for applying the death penalty. We need to take some of this energy that was created around the hunger strike to help these men fight for their lives.

So, we may celebrate a great victory for now. Common sense has prevailed in a dark place where there appeared to be no light. But watch this space for further news on their ongoing campaign.

I hope to share a copy of the Ohio prison authorities’ written statement that ended this hunger strike in a short time.

As Bomani has told me many times, “It ain’t over …”

Jan. 15, 4:40 p.m. – The rally at OSP was attended by a large crowd, including many members of the families of the hunger strikers, despite the freezing weather. Family members met with the hunger strikers this morning and they reported that they were in high spirits on ending their hunger strike and winning their demands, but that they now had to turn their attention to their death sentences.

Statements of support came from all over the world and a small delegation of relatives, along with Alice Lynd, went to the prison and left a copy of our open letter for Warden David Bobby, signed by more than 1,200 people including prominent people from Ohio and around the world. Warden Bobby was not there, but a designated representative received the letter on his behalf with a promise that he would read it.
The crowd then proceeded to a church hall in downtown Youngstown for refreshments and some celebration over the good news. The organizers, especially Sharon Danann and Alice and Staughton Lynd, want to thank everyone who supported these men for their contribution to this victory.

Our thoughts are with Bomani, Hasan, Jason and Namir, and we will remain at their sides.

Denis O’Hearn is professor of sociology at Binghamton University SUNY. His book, “Nothing But an Unfinished Song,” is a biography of the Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands. This story first appeared on the Facebook page “In Solidarity with the Lucasville Uprising Prisoners on Hunger Strike.” Contact Denis O’Hearn through Facebook, at http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1533483976&v=wall.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ohio death row hunger striker: ‘If we must die’


By Bomani Hondo Shakur
Published Jan 3, 2011 7:49 PM
in: Workers World
Also see:
Lucasville, Ohio, prison uprising leaders go on hunger strike

IAC: Support Lucasville prisoners’ hunger strike!

Wrongfully convicted following a prison uprising in Lucasville, Ohio, in 1993, Brother Bomani is currently at Ohio State Penitentiary, a supermax prison, where he and other prisoners began a hunger strike on Jan. 3, 2011. http://www.iacenter.org/ to sign the petition in support of the demands of these prisoners.

Before I speak my piece, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I don’t want to die. I want to live and breathe and strive to do something righteous with my life. Truly. For the past 16 years, however, I’ve been in solitary confinement, confined to a cell 23 hours a day for something I didn’t do and, speaking honestly, I have gone as far as I’m willing to go. Am I giving up? No.

This is a protest, the only nonviolent way I can think of to express the deep disdain I have for the unjust situation that I am in. Make no mistake: My physical and mental strength is intact. However, to continue on in this way would be to lend legitimacy to a process that is both fraudulent and vindictive; this I am no longer willing to do.

I realize that for some of you the thought that an innocent man could be sent to prison and ultimately executed is inconceivable. But it happens. In a system that’s based more on competition than the equitable treatment of others, the football field is not the only place where participants are encouraged to win at all cost.

Hence, in order to be victorious, some prosecutors hide evidence, lie in open court and even pay for the perjured testimony of their witnesses. And this is exactly what happened in my case (and in the majority of the cases stemming from the 1993 prison uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville); there are a few people among you who have reviewed the file and know this to be the truth.

But let us for the moment put aside the question of my guilt or innocence, because that, believe it or not, is not what this is about. On that score, we have written several books, produced a play, and are putting the finishing touches on a full-scale documentary to illustrate the travesty of justice that has taken place here; and these things are available to you if you are interested. For now, I want to talk about dying ...

In all that is presently unclear, one thing is certain: I have been sentenced to death, which, as you know, is the severest penalty known to man. Typically, when one has been given the death penalty, one is placed alongside other similarly sentenced prisoners and they, together, are housed in an area that has been designated as death row. As living situations go, this is a very bleak and miserable place. Men are sent here to die, to be killed by the state. No one in their right mind would ask to be sent here; and yet, this is precisely what I am asking, which should give you an indication of just how insufferable the situation I am living under is. And I am not alone.

When the uprising was over, and all was said and done, five of us were singled out as leaders and sentenced to death. Jason Robb, James Were (or “Namir,” as he prefers to be called), Siddique Abdullah Hasan, George Skatzes and myself. With the exception of George Skatzes, who for the past 10 years has been in a less pressurized — though by no means acceptable — situation, we have undergone penalty on top of penalty; been kept from fully participating in our appeals, from touching our friends and families; denied adequate medical treatment; and so many other things that are too numerous to name. In a word, we have been tortured. And yes, I’m aware that the word “tortured” is a strong word to use, but I know of no other word that more adequately describes what we have been through. We have been put through hell.

A few months ago, a federal judge recommended that my case be dismissed, which effectively moved me one step closer to being executed. It’s hard to explain how this made me feel, but upon hearing the news I immediately thought that a mistake had been made and that my attorney had somehow misunderstood the judge’s ruling. As it turns out, I was the one who misunderstood. Indeed, I have been “misunderstanding” things all along.

Treat us with ‘dignity’

When I was first named as a suspect in riot-related crimes, I was certain that my name would eventually be cleared. Instead, I received a nine-count murder indictment with death-penalty specifications. I was shocked. And then they offered me a deal: “Cop out to murder and we’ll forget the whole thing,” they told me. “But I’m innocent,” I said, thinking to myself that the truth of this would somehow set me free. And so, with the trust and faith of a fool, I went to trial, thinking and believing that I would receive a fair one (I didn’t) and that I would ultimately be exonerated (I wasn’t). And then, when I was sentenced to death, it was my understanding that I would be placed on death row and allowed to pursue my appeals alongside other similarly sentenced prisoners; but, again, I misunderstood ... “Just wait until you get to federal court,” I was told, “and you’ll definitely get some relief there.” So I waited ... I waited for 16 years!

If justice as a concept is real, then I could with some justification say, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” But this has never been about justice, and I finally, finally, finally understand that. For the past 16 years, I (we) have been nothing more than a scapegoat for the state, a convenient excuse that they can point to whenever they need to raise the specter of fear among the public or justify the expenditure of inordinate amounts of money for more locks or chains. And not only that, but the main reason behind the double penalty that we have been undergoing is so that we can serve as an example of what happens to those who challenge the power and authority of the state.

And like good little pawns we’re supposed to sit here and wait until they take us to their death chamber, strap us down to a gurney, and pump poison through our veins. Fuck that! I refuse to go out like that: used as a tool by the state to put fear into the hearts of others while legitimizing a system that is bogus and sold to those with money. That’s not my destiny.

At the beginning of this I wanted to make it perfectly clear that I didn’t want to die, and I don’t. Life is a beautiful thing, especially when one is conscious and aware of the value of one’s life. Sadly, it took going through this process for me to wake up and finally understand the value of my life. I say “wake up” because, unbeknownst to me, I had been asleep all this time, oblivious to the reality of my situation and unaware that the only way for one to stop dreaming (and gain some control over things) is for one to open one’s eyes. My eyes are open now.

Is it too late? I don’t know. As I said, the books have been written, the play has been performed, and, pretty soon, the documentary will be completed. But what good are these things if they never enter into the stream of public opinion and force the governor (who answers to the public) to issue a general amnesty?

Admittedly, convincing the governor to bend in our favor will be a difficult undertaking, one which will require huge amounts of energy and effort on our behalf. But it can be done; at the very least, it can be attempted. In the meantime, we who have been sentenced to death must be granted the exact same privileges as other death-sentenced prisoners. If we must die, we should be allowed to do so with dignity, which is all we’re asking: the opportunity to pursue our appeals unimpeded, to be able to touch our friends and family, and to no longer be treated as playthings but as human beings who are facing the ultimate penalty.

Again, I stress the fact that I do not want to die, but in the words of [poet] Claude McKay, I share the following as my parting sentiments:

If we must die, let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die, O, let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain: then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though deed!

O kinsman! We must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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Email: ww@workers.org

Dr. Atul Gawande: Solitary Confinement is Torture

DemocracyNow.org interviewed Dr Atul Gawande on january 5th 2011 about health care, but also about Solitary Confinement. Here is the rush transcript:

The physical and psychological effects experienced by people held for extended periods in solitary confinement is a topic Dr. Atul Gawande has written extensively about. Yesterday, four prisoners in the supermax Ohio State Penitentiary launched a hunger strike to protest being held for more than 17 years years in solitary confinement. The alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, has also been held in solitary confinement for much of the past seven months. "People experience solitary confinement as even more damaging than physical torture," says Dr. Gawande.

Guest:


Dr. Atul Gawande, associate professor at Harvard School of Public Health and is a practicing surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He’s also a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. He is the author of three books; the most recent is The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.


SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: I want to switch gears for a moment. You wrote a remarkable piece about the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners, on people who have been held in isolation for a long time. On this issue, I just want to turn to the case of the four prisoners in a supermax prison, the Ohio State Penitentiary. This week they launched a hunger strike to protest what they call their harsh mistreatment under solitary confinement. The prisoners—Bomani Shakur, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Jason Robb and Namir Abdul Mateen—were sentenced to death for their involvement in the 1993 prison uprising in Lucasville, Ohio. For over 17 years, they’ve been held in 23-hours-a-day solitary lockdown. On Monday, the four began refusing to eat meals until they are moved out of solitary confinement and onto death row, where they say they’ll get better treatment. Yesterday I spoke—Amy spoke with the longtime peace activist, historian and lawyer, Staughton Lynd. He wrote the definitive history of the 1993 Ohio prison uprising at Lucasville. He described the prisoners’ conditions. Let’s take a listen.


STAUGHTON LYND: They are held in more restrictive confinement than the more than 100 other death sentence prisoners in the same prison. Now, why is this? It’s precisely because the system thinks of them as leaders. So, it will let them watch television. They even let Bomani Shakur use a typewriter. But what they don’t let any of the four men do is to be in the same space as another human being other than a guard at the same time. And this means that while other death sentence prisoners can wander about the pod, can have collective meals outside their cells, and especially can have semi-contact visits with their friends and families, the four are always obliged to encounter the world either through a solid cell door or, when they go out on a visit, through a solid pane of glass. So that, again, Bomani has a niece and nephew aged eight and three that he loves and would wish to touch. If he were on death row, he could do that. But he’s been told by the prison authorities he will never be on death row, because they’re going to keep him in social isolation until they kill him.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Staughton Lynd, the longtime peace activist, lawyer, talking about these four men who have now gone on a hunger strike at the Ohio State Penitentiary, demanding to be put on death row, where they say that they will be treated better.

And then we’ve got the case of the alleged WikiLeaks Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, who’s being held in solitary confinement. Twenty-two years old, U.S. Army private, arrested in May, has been in detention ever since. For the past five months, he’s been held at the U.S. Marine brig at Quantico, Virginia, before that, held for two months in a military jail in Kuwait. Last month, we spoke to Glenn Greenwald, the political and legal blogger at Salon.com. Glenn reported that Manning is being held under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment, and even torture. This is what Glenn Greenwald said.

GLENN GREENWALD: He’s been held for seven months without being convicted of any crime. And the conditions that I recently discovered he’s being held in are really quite disturbing. And this has been true for the entire seven-month duration of his detention. He is in solitary confinement, and he’s not only in solitary confinement, which means that he’s in a cell alone, but he’s there for 23 out of 24 hours every day. He is released for one hour a day only. So, 23 out of the 24 hours a day he sits alone. He is barred from even doing things like exercising inside of his cell. He’s constantly supervised and monitored, and if he does that, he’s told immediately to stop. There are very strict rules about what he’s even allowed to do inside the cell. Beyond that, he’s being denied just the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, such as a pillow and sheets, and has been denied that without explanation for the entire duration of his visit, as well. And there is a lot of literature and a lot of psychological studies, and even studies done by the U.S. military, that show that prolonged solitary confinement, which is something that the United States does almost more than any other country in the Western world, of the type to which Manning is subjected, can have a very long-term psychological damage, including driving people to insanity and the like. It clearly is cruel and unusual; it’s arguably a form of torture. And given that Manning has never been convicted of anything, unlike the convicts at supermaxes to whom this treatment is normally applied, it’s particularly egregious.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: That’s Glenn Greenwald, the political and legal blogger at Salon.com. In his piece that he wrote about Manning, he actually cited your article "Hellhole," which you document what happens to people held in isolation. Explain why this is thought of as a form of torture in many places.

DR. ATUL GAWANDE: Well, I was interested in whether it really was torture, and I was interested because this has become, I think, a generationally defining question for us. In the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, solitary confinement was very unusual. Today, we have over 50,000 people in long-term solitary confinement in our American prisons now. You know, in states like New York— it’s across every—red and blue states. We have—New York has over eight percent of its prison population in long-term solitary confinement. A large proportion—some think a majority—are not there for violent offenses, either. It’s a method of control that we regard as increasingly routine. And so, what my puzzle was, is it torture, or is it not?

And what I looked back to was the experience and the literature, which is much richer, around what hostages and prisoners of war—our Vietnam veterans, for example—experienced when they went through solitary confinement. And what’s found is that people experience solitary confinement as even more damaging than physical torture. Vietnam veterans who received physical torture—John McCain had two-and-a-half years in solitary confinement, had his legs and arm broken during his imprisonment, but described the two-and-a-half years that he spent in solitary as being the most cruel component and the most terrifying aspect of what he went under. You also look at studies that show that people held in isolation from other human beings—we actually need social, friendly interaction with other people to be sane, to be absolutely—

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right. You document how people actually reach a level of psychosis.

DR. ATUL GAWANDE: That’s right. Not everybody.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: They begin to lose their minds, right?

DR. ATUL GAWANDE: Not everybody. The people who become psychotic in solitary confinement are people who often have attention deficit disorder or low IQ or issues of prior mental illness. Well, guess who is in our prisons? And there’s a very high rate of psychosis and people flat-out going crazy under the confinement conditions. And so, then what I puzzle over is, does it actually reduce our violence in our prisons? The evidence from multiple studies now is that not only that it has not reduced violence, it’s increased the costs of being in prison. And my finding was that we have decided that when it is political—when it is a prisoner of war or a hostage, that it is absolutely torture when other countries do this to people, and that there is no discernible difference in the experience of what people go through in our prisons, when they’re in solitary confinement for 14 years, in the case of one person who I documented, that this is torture.

Source: DemocracyNow. Please support them!

Monday, January 3, 2011

On Bradley Manning, Solitary Confinement, and Selective Outrage

Please read this good article and understand that solitary confinement is widespread in the USA, and we have to keep on telling it until it stops, because it is torture:

From Solitary Watch
January 2, 2011
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway
Solitary Watch

For the past few weeks, progressive online media sources have been alive with outrage against the conditions in which accused Wikileaker Bradley Manning is being held. Manning (as we first noted on Solitary Watch back in July) is in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement at a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, denied sunlight, exercise, possessions, and all but the most limited contact with family and friends. He has now been in isolation for more than seven months. The cruel and inhuman conditions of his detention, first widely publicized by Glenn Greenwald on Salon and expanded upon by others, are now being discussed, lamented, and protested throughout the progressive blogosphere (ourselves included). Few of those taking part in the conversation hesitate to describe Manning’s situation as torture.

Meanwhile, here at Solitary Watch, we’ve been receiving calls and emails from our modest band of readers, all of them saying more or less the same thing: We’re glad Bradley Manning’s treatment is getting some attention, but what about the tens of thousands of others who are languishing in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails? According to available data, there are some 25,000 inmates in long-term isolation in the nation’s supermax prisons, and as many as 80,000 more in solitary in other prisons and jails. Where is the outrage–even among progressives–for these forgotten souls? Where, even, is some acknowledgment of their existence?

A few of the writers who champion Manning have, to be fair, mentioned in passing the widespread use of solitary confinement in the United States. A very few have gone further: One powerful piece by Lynn Parramore on New Deal 2.0, for example, uses the Manning case as an opportunity to document and denounce the brutal realities of solitary confinement. She urges readers to “remember the thousands of people being tortured in American prisons, including Bradley Manning, and let us send our own message back to our government: We are Americans…Most assuredly, we will not accept torture in our name. Not of the accused. Not of the mentally ill. Not even of convicted criminals.”

But Parramore’s piece is an anomaly. More often, progressive writers–and their readers, if comments are any measure–have gone to some lengths to distinguish Bradley Manning from the masses of other prisoners being held in similar conditions. Whether explicitly or implicitly, they depict Manning as exceptional, and therefore less deserving of his treatment and more worthy of our concern.

Frequently, writers and readers make the point that Manning is being subjected to these condition while he is merely accused , rather than convicted, of a crime. Perhaps they need to be introduced to the 15-year-old boy who, along with several dozen other juveniles, is being held is solitary in a jail in Harris County, Texas, while he awaits trial on a robbery charge. He is one of hundreds–if not thousands–of prisoners being held in pre-trial solitary confinement, for one reason or another, on any given day in America. Most of them lack decent legal representation, or are simply too poor to make bail.
We have also seen articles suggesting that the treatment Manning is receiving is worse than the standard for solitary confinement, since he is deprived even of a pillow or sheets for his bed. Their authors should review the case of the prisoners held in the St. Tammany Parish Jail in rural Louisiana. According to a brief by the Louisiana ACLU, “After the jail determines a prisoner is suicidal, the prisoner is stripped half-naked and placed in a 3′ x 3′ metal cage with no shoes, bed, blanket or toilet…Prisoners report they must curl up on the floor to sleep because the cages are too small to let them lie down. Guards frequently ignore repeated requests to use the bathroom, forcing some desperate people to urinate in discarded containers…People have been reportedly held in these cages for days, weeks, and months.” The cells are one-fourth the size mandated by local law for caged dogs.

There is, rightly, concern over the damage being done to Manning’s mental health by seven months in solitary. Seldom mentioned is the fact that an estimated one-third to one-half of the residents of America’s isolation units suffer from mental illness, and solitary confinement cells have, in effect, become our new asylums. Witness the ACLU of Montana’s brief on a 17-year-old mentally ill inmate who “was so traumatized by his deplorable treatment in the Montana State Prison that he twice attempted to kill himself by biting through the skin on his wrist to puncture a vein.” During his ten months in solitary confinement, he was tasered, pepper sprayed, and stripped naked in view of other inmates, and “his mental health treatment consists of a prison staff member knocking on his door once a week and asking if he has any concerns.”

Finally, many have argued that the nature of Manning’s alleged crimes renders him a heroic political prisoner, rather than a “common” criminal. Those who take this line might want to look into the “Communications Management Units” at two federal prisons, where, according to a lawsuit filed last year by the Center for Constitutional Rights, prisoners are placed in extreme isolation “for their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, unpopular political views, or in retaliation for challenging poor treatment or other rights violations in the federal prison system.” Or they might investigate the aftermath of the recent prison strike in Georgia, in which several inmates have reportedly been thrown into solitary for leading a nonviolent protest against prison conditions.
All of these cases are “exceptional,” but only in that they earned the attention of some journalist or advocate. Most prisoners held solitary confinement are, by design, silent and silenced. Most of their stories–tens of thousands of them–are never told at all. And solitary confinement is now used as a disciplinary measure of first resort in prisons and jails across the country, so its use is anything but exceptional.

All across America, inmates are placed in isolation for weeks or months not only for fighting with other inmates or guards, but for being “disruptive” or disobeying orders; for being identified as a gang member (often by a prison snitch or the wrong kind of tattoo); or for having contraband, which can include not only a weapon but a joint, a cell phone, or too many postage stamps. In Virginia, a dozen Rastafarians were in solitary for more than a decade because they refused to cut their dreadlocks, in violation of the prison code. In many prisons, juveniles and rape victims are isolated “for their own protection” in conditions identical to those used for punishment. And for more serious crimes, the isolation simply becomes more extreme, and more permanent: In Louisiana, two men convicted of killing a prison guard have been in solitary confinement for 38 years.

Moreover, if solitary confinement is torture–or at the very least, cruel and inhuman punishment–it shouldn’t matter what a prisoner has done to end up there. As Lynn Parramore writes, “The placement of human beings in solitary confinement is not a measure of their depravity. It is a measure of our own.”
The treatment of Bradley Manning, which has introduced many on the left to the torment of solitary confinement, may present an opportunity for them to measure their own humanity. They might begin by asking themselves whether prison torture is wrong, and worthy of their attention and outrage, only when it is committed against people whose actions they admire.

http://solitarywatch.com/2011/01/02/on-bradley-manning-solitary-confinement-and-selective-outrage/

See for instance: Russell Maroon Shoats: 21 years in solitary confinement

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Shame on Mississippi! Article: For Two Sisters, the End of an Ordeal

For Two Sisters, the End of an Ordeal
By BOB HERBERT
Published: December 31, 2010
New York Times
I got a call on New Year’s Eve from Gladys Scott, which was a terrific way for 2010 to end.

As insane as it may seem, Gladys and her sister, Jamie, are each serving consecutive life sentences in a state prison in Mississippi for their alleged role in a robbery in 1993 in which no one was hurt and $11 supposedly was taken.

Gladys was on the phone, excited and relieved, because Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi had agreed to suspend the prison terms.

“I’ve waited so long for this day to come,” she said.

I was happy for the Scott sisters and deeply moved as Gladys spoke of how desperately she wanted to “just hold” her two children and her mother, who live in Florida. But I couldn’t help thinking that right up until the present moment she and Jamie have been treated coldly and disrespectfully by the governor and other state officials. It’s as if the authorities have found it impossible to hide their disdain, their contempt, for the two women.

The prison terms were suspended — not commuted — on the condition that Gladys donate a kidney to Jamie, who is seriously ill with diabetes and high blood pressure and receives dialysis at least three times a week. Gladys had long expressed a desire to donate a kidney to her sister, but to make that a condition of her release was unnecessary, mean-spirited, inhumane and potentially coercive. It was a low thing to do.

Governor Barbour did not offer any expression of concern for Jamie’s health in his statement announcing the sentence suspension.

He said of the sisters: “Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott’s medical condition creates a substantial cost to the state of Mississippi.”

By all means, get those medical costs off the books if you can.

I asked Gladys how she had learned that she was to be released. “Oh, I saw it while I was looking at the news on television,” she said.

The authorities hadn’t bothered to even tell the sisters. After all, who are they? As Gladys put it, “Nobody told me a thing.”

I asked if she had seen Jamie, who is in another section of the prison, since the governor’s decision had been announced. She said no one had tried to get the two of them together for even a telephone conversation.

“I haven’t seen her or heard from her,” Gladys said. “I want to see her. I want to see how she’s doing and take care of her.”

I am not surprised at Governor Barbour’s behavior. He’s not the first person who comes to mind when I think of admirable public officials. The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., noted that the governor had been on the radio this week asserting that there was hardly anyone in prison who didn’t deserve to be there. It’s an interesting comment from a governor who has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to free prisoners convicted of the most heinous crimes.

The Jackson Free Press, an alternative weekly, and Slate magazine have noted that Mr. Barbour has pardoned four killers and suspended the life sentence of a fifth. So cold-blooded murder is no reason, in Mr. Barbour’s view, to keep the prison doors closed.

This is also a governor who said recently, while reminiscing about the civil rights struggle and the treatment of blacks in his hometown of Yazoo City, Miss., in the 1960s: “I just don’t remember it being that bad.” The comment was in an article in The Weekly Standard in which the governor managed to find some complimentary things to say about the rabidly racist White Citizens Councils.

Faced with heavy and widespread criticism, he later pulled back on the comments, describing the era as “difficult and painful” and the councils as “indefensible.”

The only reason the Scott sisters have gotten any relief at all is because of an extraordinary network of supporters who campaigned relentlessly over several years on their behalf. Ben Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., emerged as one of the leaders of the network. The concerted effort finally paid off.

Gladys Scott said her 16 years in prison have been extremely difficult and that she had gotten depressed from time to time but had not given up hope. “It was a very bad experience, ” she said.

What is likely to get lost in the story of the Scott sisters finally being freed is just how hideous and how outlandish their experience really was. How can it be possible for individuals with no prior criminal record to be sentenced to two consecutive life terms for a crime in which no one was hurt and $11 was taken? Who had it in for them, and why was that allowed to happen?

The Scott sisters may go free, but they will never receive justice.
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Many people helped to free the Scott Sisters, first and foremost their mother Mrs. Evelyn Rasco, Nancy Lockhart, Jim Ridgeway, many hundreds of grassroots supporters that  kept this the reality of the injustice done to them alive. 
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/01/opinion/01herbert.html?ref=opinion
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on January 1, 2011, on page A19 of the New York edition.

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