Solitary Confinement is Torture and is Official US Policy: Supermax Film Premieres in London, April 16

No one who has spent any time studying and writing about Guantánamo, as I have, could fail to realize that, although the terrible innovation of Guantánamo is indefinite detention without charge or trial, its orange jumpsuits, and the perceived normality of solitary confinement as standard operating procedure, arrived at the prison directly from America’s domestic prison system — where there are 2.2 million prisoners (and almost 7 million people under correctional supervision (including probation and parole), and up to 100,000 prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement at any one time. Most harrowingly, many thousands of these prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement not as occasional punishment, but as a policy, and have spent years, or even decades without any human contact.

As Kevin Gosztola explained in July 2011, in an article for FireDogLake, “40 states and the federal government have supermax prisons holding upwards of 25,000 inmates. Tens of thousands more are held in solitary confinement in lockdown units within other prisons and jails. There’s no up-to-date nationwide count, but according to best estimates, there are at least 75,000 and perhaps more than 100,000 prisoners in solitary confinement on any given day in America.”

Over the years, I have endeavored to cover the horrors of solitary confinement in America’s prisons. In December 2010, I joined a call for a worldwide ban on the use of solitary confinement, and in 2011 I covered the hunger strikes that began in California’s notorious Pelican Bay facility — see here, here, here and here. I also cross-posted a hugely important article about long-term solitary confinement, “Hellhole,” written by Atul Gawande for the New Yorker in 2009, and in 2012 reported on calls by Professor Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, for an end to the use of solitary confinement, and an appeal to the UN by Pelican Bay prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond Guantánamo, New York Times Examines How Federal Prisons Deal with Terrorists

As the debate over the dreadful detainee provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act has demonstrated, when lawmakers, unprovoked, have unilaterally decided that what America needs is mandatory military custody for terror suspects (with the intention of holding people for life without charge or trial), something has gone horribly wrong, and a rational perspective on the success of federal court trials in prosecuting terror suspects has been shamefully discarded.

Above all, this is a sign of how lawmakers — Democrats as well as Republicans — have politicized terrorism, in their obsession with regarding terrorists not as criminals, but as “warriors” in a “war on terror” which they do not wish to end, despite the killing of Osama bin Laden this year, and despite the almost total eradication of al-Qaeda as an entity in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In this absurd climate, lawmakers are shunning federal court trials for terror suspects, even though they have a successful track record, and even though, by any objective measure, that success has been purchased at a distinctly dubious cost  — including a lamentable history of entrapment since 9/11, and the fact that the rules regarding material support for terrorism are so broadly drawn that prisoners are receiving punitive sentences for almost nothing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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