Tag Archive | solitary confinement

UN slams U.S. on torture, indefinite detention, youth imprisonment and solitary

Human rights in the US3

The United States came under sharp criticism this week from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Mendez, who raised a number of objections regarding U.S. prison policies including solitary confinement, the treatment of juveniles in the justice system and the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo.

Mendez said on Wednesday that the terms under which the United States has invited him to visit the Guantanamo Bay detention center are unacceptable, urging the U.S. to reconsider restrictions on his visit including by allowing him unmonitored conversations with detainees.

“The invitation is to get a briefing from the authorities and to visit some parts of the prison, but not all, and specifically I am not allowed to have unmonitored or even monitored conversations with any inmate in Guantanamo Bay,” said Mendez.

He also noted that he has been kept waiting for two years to visit prisons in the United States to probe the use of solitary confinement but that he has been refused access. He has requested visits to federal prisons — ADX in Florence, Colorado, and the Manhattan Correctional Center — and state facilities in California, New York, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, but so far the government has blocked his visits to the federal facilities, and he is not willing to only accept visits to state penitentiaries. More than 80,000 people languish in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

On Tuesday, Mendez also condemned the U.S. for being the “only State in the world that still sentences children to life imprisonment without the opportunity for parole,” noting that by imposing cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment against the most vulnerable members of society, the U.S. is in serious violation of international norms. There are 2,500 American citizens serving life in prison for crimes they committed as children, according to the Sentencing Project.

“The detention of children is inextricably linked – in fact if not in law – with the ill-treatment of children, owing to the particularly vulnerable situation in which they have been placed that exposes them to numerous types of risk,” Mendez said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Mendez noted that the U.S. practice of imposing life sentences on children in cases of homicide violates international law on numerous fronts, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The UN expert noted that the deprivation of liberty of children is intended to be a measure of last resort, to be used only for the shortest possible period of time, only if is in the best interests of the child, and limited to exceptional cases.

“Failure to recognize or apply these safeguards increases the risk of children being subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, and implicates State responsibility,” Mendez warned. He called for the adoption of “higher standards to classify treatment and punishment as cruel, inhuman or degrading in the case of children.”

In addition, the Special Rapporteur pointed out that inappropriate conditions of detention – including pretrial and post-trial incarceration as well as institutionalization and administrative immigration detention – exacerbate the harmful effects on children deprived of their liberty.

“Within the context of administrative immigration enforcement, it is now clear that the deprivation of liberty of children based on their or their parents’ migration status is never in the best interests of the child,” he added. “It exceeds the requirement of necessity, becomes grossly disproportionate and may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of migrant children.”

Human rights groups including Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, have issued harsh criticism of the U.S.’s practices of detaining immigrant children.

“The U.S. government’s policy of detaining large numbers of children harms kids and flouts international standards,” said Clara Long, U.S. researcher at Human Rights Watch last summer. “Congress should be exploring alternatives to detention that other countries facing spikes in border crossings have used successfully.”

U.S. law allows Customs and Border Protection to detain children for a maximum of 72 hours but recent reports indicate that CBP is holding children for periods closer to ten days or two weeks. The children are then transferred to the Office for Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services, where they may be further detained.

“States should, expeditiously and completely, cease the detention of children, with or without their parents, on the basis of their immigration status,” Mendez said this week.

Playground-To-Prison-Infographic-infographicsmania

From Guantanamo Bay to Pelican Bay, U.S. prisons under international scrutiny

Photo taken on  I-80 freeway on the pedestrian overpass near University Avenue by Facebook user Mindy Stone.

Photo taken on I-80 freeway on the pedestrian overpass near University Avenue by Facebook user Mindy Stone.

With hunger strikes now underway at U.S. prisons in Cuba and California, U.S. detention policies are once again in the global spotlight, being called a violation of international norms tantamount to torture.

Last week, an international body called on the United States to once and for all close the notorious prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which counts the U.S. as one of its 57 member states, adopted a resolution at its Annual Session in Istanbul, calling “for the permanent closing of this detention facility as soon as possible.”

Although generally very soft on the U.S. government and taking pains to avoid criticism of the overall policy of indefinite detention and the torturous force-feeding taking place at Gitmo, the resolution nevertheless reiterates the OSCE PA’s longstanding calls for the closure of this prison and “recommends an increased co-operation between Europe and the United States as regards the concrete implementation of the closing of Guantanamo.”

It was the fifth time since 2003 that the OSCE PA had called for the prison’s closure.

In introducing the resolution, its sponsor Lord Alf Dubs noted that President Obama has indicated that he still believes that Guantanamo should be closed. Dubs drew attention to the hunger strike taking place at Gitmo and noted that it is the responsibility of all countries that have nationals at Gitmo to receive these prisoners. He pointed out that the British government has indicated it would allow Shaker Aamer, a British national unjustly held for 11 years at Guantanamo, to return to the UK, but to this date the U.S. government has refused to release him.

Dubs further noted widespread international criticism of the Guantanamo prison camp, with the International Committee of the Red Cross documenting the profound damage to psychological health posed by indefinite detention, and UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay raising serious questions about the prison camp’s compliance with international law.

Notably, rather than calling out the U.S. for its human rights abuses, most delegates to the OSCE PA used the opportunity to obliquely praise the United States for its “commitment” to closing the prison camp, with only Belarus strongly criticizing the U.S. government for its failure to do so. (Watch the debate in the original floor language – including English, French and Russian – here.)

Nevertheless, the resolution was adopted overwhelmingly, with the U.S. delegation abstaining.

As this resolution was adopted, a video began going viral depicting the horrific practice of force-feeding at Guantanamo. Based on a leaked document which sets out the military instructions, or standard operating procedure, for force-feeding detainees, the four-minute film made by the human rights organization Reprieve depicts U.S. actor and rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), experiencing the procedure.

After four days on YouTube, the video had already received 2.5 million views.

Currently, more than 100 Gitmo detainees are on hunger strike, with more than 40 being force-fed twice a day in gruesome procedures that last up to two hours. Carlos Warner, a lawyer who represents several hunger strikers, told the Guardian in June: “The hunger strike grows for two reasons: the military’s refusal to negotiate with the men in a productive way and because the president has taken no action in spite of his words.”

The practice of force-feeding is at odds with international medical policy on prisoners’ right to refuse nourishment.

In 2006, the World Medical Association, an organization that represents physicians around the world, issued the Declaration of Tokyo, which states: “Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.”

The American Medical Association has also said that the practice “violates core ethical values of the medical profession.”

Despite these grave concerns over the force-feeding going on at Guantanamo Bay, prison officials at Pelican Bay State Prison in California are now preparing to force-feed thousands of inmates who are on a hunger strike to protest prolonged solitary confinement, as well as other “medieval conditions” in the California prison system.

With originally 29,000 hunger strikers, about 12,000 prisoners being held in two-thirds of California’s 33 prisons have refused meals for the fourth consecutive day in a show of solidarity against conditions at Pelican Bay.

Denied telephone calls, contact visits and education, work or rehabilitation programs, prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) of Pelican Bay are isolated for at least 22 and a half hours a day in cramped, concrete, windowless cells.

Held under these conditions for more than a decade and some over 20 years, the SHU prisoners began striking on Monday and the protest spread. Californian officials instituted an official state response when the strike entered its fourth day, which includes aggressive monitoring of inmates’ health and possible force feeding.

The prisoners’ five demands include:

1. Eliminate group punishments and administrative abuse.
2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.
3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons recommendations and end long-term solitary confinement.
4. Provide adequate and nutritious food.
5. Create and expand constructive programming.

As Amnesty International points out, the practice of long-term solitary confinement is in violation the United States’ international obligations:

While there may be instances where holding prisoners in isolation is appropriate and humane, the use of prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement is a violation of the prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment found in international human rights law. By violating this prohibition, U.S. authorities not only abuse the rights of prisoners, they undermine the human rights that protect all of us from abuse.

Nevertheless, “more than 3,000 prisoners in California are held in high security isolation units known as Security Housing Units, where they are confined for at least 22 and a half hours a day in single or double cells, with no work or meaningful rehabilitation programs or group activities of any kind,” Amnesty notes.

More than 500 prisoners have spent 10 or more years in the Pelican Bay SHU, with 78 in solitary more than 20 years. While California holds the most prisoners in solitary, the practice is widespread across the United States.

At prisons from Arizona to Illinois to Louisiana to Guantánamo, the U.S. holds “at least 25,000 inmates in isolation in supermax prisons,” reports Amnesty International.

CA_isolation-infographic-USA

To add your name to a petition in support of the California hunger strikers, click here.

To call for the closure of Guantanamo, click here.

Nationwide actions in support of the California hunger strike can be found at Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity.

For more information about solitary confinement see the Center Constitutional Rights and Solitary Watch.

Abandoned by international community, Bradley Manning begins fight for his life

bradley manning

Just over three years since being arrested on suspicion of being the source of a massive leak of classified documents – many providing evidence of U.S. war crimes and other serious crimes of state – to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning began his trial yesterday, facing the extremely serious charge of “aiding the enemy” which could potentially result in a death sentence.

Despite the international implications of the trial and the grave human rights abuses he has endured since his arrest in May 2010, leading human rights groups and international organizations are maintaining relative silence regarding the case.

Manning has spent his entire pre-trial period of three years in jail despite military law setting a maximum of 120 days of detention before a trial. His pre-trial punishment is also likely a breach of his rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the United States ratified in 1992. The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations has held that confinement of more than six months is incompatible with article 9 (3) of the ICCPR, which states:

Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement.

In providing practical guidelines for the use of pre-trial confinement, the UN’s Handbook of International Standards relating to Pre-Trial Detention recommends that governments establish a maximum period of time during which a person may be detained without trial, which must abide by international standards, and if a prisoner’s detention exceeds that amount of time, he or she shall be released.

Needless to say, the U.S. military has not seen fit to adhere to these standards, unnecessarily delaying Manning’s trial for many months. As his lawyer David Coombs demonstrated at a pre-trial hearing earlier this year, although prosecutors were supposed to arraign Manning within 120 days, they took well over 600. Coombs also showed substantial periods of their inactivity and needless delay, despite a legal requirement to remain actively diligent throughout the proceedings.

For nine months of his pre-trial imprisonment, Manning was subjected to solitary confinement and other forms of punishment such as forced nudity, which were clear violations of his rights under international humanitarian law, including the ICCPR, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Manning’s denial of work and exercise opportunities, for example, was arguably a violation of the Standard Minimum Rules‘ stipulation that “An untried prisoner shall always be offered opportunity to work, but shall not be required to work. If he chooses to work, he shall be paid for it.” Further, despite the international requirement that “Every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits,” Manning was denied meaningful exercise opportunity.

Being forced to wear shackles while out of his cell was also likely out of step with the Standard Minimum Rules, which state: “Instruments of restraint, such as handcuffs, chains, irons and strait-jackets, shall never be applied as a punishment.”

Manning’s forced nudity clearly breached the letter and spirit of the Standard Minimum Rules’ stipulation that “An untried prisoner shall be allowed to wear his own clothing if it is clean and suitable.”

At the time of some of Manning’s most egregious treatment at the hands of his captors, the international community rallied to his defense, issuing strongly worded condemnations of U.S. actions which seemed to have a real effect in improving his living conditions.

In January 2011, for example, while Manning was being held in prolonged solitary confinement, Amnesty International sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, calling Manning’s detention “unnecessarily harsh and punitive” and in “breach of the USA’s obligations under international standards and treaties.”

According to Amnesty:

The conditions under which PFC Manning is held appear to breach the USA’s obligations under international standards and treaties, including Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which the USA ratified in 1992 and which states that “all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person”. The UN Human Rights Committee, the ICCPR monitoring body, has noted in its General Comment on Article 10 that persons deprived of their liberty may not be “subjected to any hardship or constraint other than that resulting from the deprivation of liberty; respect for the dignity of such persons must be guaranteed under the same conditions as for that of free persons …”.

In an open letter to President Obama, members of Congress and Pentagon officials in November 2011, members of the European Parliament expressed concern that “Manning has been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and other abusive treatment tantamount to torture.”

Manning’s solitary confinement regime “constitute[d] at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture,” according to Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. “If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture,” he told the Guardian in 2012.

Largely in response to this international pressure, Manning was removed from solitary confinement and placed in medium security at Fort Leavenworth prison in April 2011.

Even the military judge, Col. Denise Lind, eventually agreed that the treatment he received was “more rigorous than necessary.”  At a pre-trial hearing in January 2013, she ruled that Manning had been subjected to illegal pre-trial punishment while held in a military prison in Quantico, Virginia.

Despite his supporters’ pleas that the remedy for this unlawful treatment should be immediate release from prison, Lind instead simply credited a total of 112 days toward any potential prison sentence Manning receives if convicted. (What this means if he receives a death sentence or life without parole is unclear.)

Unfortunately, since the partial victory in 2011 that resulted in slightly improved living conditions for the accused whistleblower, the international community and leading human rights organizations have largely remained silent over Manning’s case.

As David Cronin recently pointed out at CounterPunch,

Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, is a fearless defender of human rights – when it suits her. Happy to champion political prisoners in Iran and Ukraine, she is prepared to overlook persecution when it is carried out with the approval of her bosom buddies in Washington.

A search on Ashton’s website indicates that she has not issued a single statement on Manning’s incarceration. I asked her spokesman to explain this silence; he did not respond. Members of the European Parliament who have tried to solicit her views on this matter haven’t fared much better. Last year, Ashton answered a parliamentary question about an investigation by Juan Méndez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, which concluded that the treatment of Manning was “cruel and inhuman”. Ashton noted that the Méndez report highlighted “potential violations of rights” before making a vague commitment that the EU would “seek clarification” from the US authorities on “what measures they intend to take”.

He further notes the confounding silence on the case by Amnesty International.

There is little doubt that Manning has been imprisoned because of his sincerely-held political beliefs. So it is baffling that Amnesty International has so far declined to consider him a prisoner of conscience and to undertake a major campaign for his release.

Amnesty has told the Canadian blogger Joe Emersberger that it cannot deem Manning to be a prisoner of conscience until it has verified if he released the information in a “responsible manner”. I contacted Amnesty to check if Emersberger had accurately reflected its position but received no reply. Assuming that Emersberger is correct – and I’ve no reason to suspect he is not – Amnesty should specify what it means by “responsible”.

This silence has led to a grassroots effort to shame Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, in particular, to take a clear stand in support of Bradley Manning as his trial begins. As the campaign Amnesty4Manning points out, “When it comes to Manning support, Amnesty International has beat around the bush for three years. Human Rights Watch has been silent since the ONE article the organization published in 2011.”

The campaign is urging people to contact AI and HRW to ask questions such as “How does Amnesty International assess actual and potential human rights violations?”, “What is Amnesty International’s definition of a prisoner of conscience?”, and “Would Pfc. Bradley Manning fit Amnesty International’s definition of a prisoner of conscience?”

Avoiding the question of whether Manning qualifies as a prisoner of conscience (a label that Amnesty freely offers to various prisoners, such as the Pussy Riot punk rockers who are serving sentences of two years in Russia for hooliganism), Amnesty issued a rather mild-mannered press release yesterday calling for the U.S. to allow Manning’s defense to argue that he “acted in the public interest when he distributed information to Wikileaks.”

“The court must allow Manning to explain in full his motives for releasing the information to Wikileaks,” said Anne Fitzgerald, director of research and crisis response at Amnesty International. “It disturbing that he was not permitted to offer the ‘public interest’ defense as he has said he reasonably believed he was exposing human rights and humanitarian law violations.”

While it could be seen as welcome that Amnesty is finally breaking its silence on this case, the statement yesterday was seen as a bit too mild by some. As one Amnesty member posted on the group’s Facebook page, “I want to know where the hell Amnesty’s been on this, possibly the most significant, courageous political prisoner in a generation?” Another wrote, “Why hasn’t Amnesty recognized Bradley as the political prisoner he is?!?!”

Instead, Amnesty chose to focus on the more limited question of whether Manning should be allowed to explain his motives for releasing the documents to WikiLeaks.

“Allowing Manning to explain his motives only at the sentencing stage could have a chilling effect on others who believe that they are whistle-blowing, or acting in the public interest in disclosing information,” noted AI’s Fitzgerald. “Manning should have been allowed to explain how, in his opinion, the public interest in being made aware of the information he disclosed outweighed the government’s interest in keeping it confidential.”

Although Manning has not had the opportunity to formally explain how his actions were intended to benefit the public interest in a trial setting, he has made it clear that by releasing the information to WikiLeaks he hoped to inform the public of what its government does in its name.

Reading from a 35-page prepared statement at a pre-trial hearing earlier this year, Manning said: “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information … this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.”

Further, it’s clear that the decision to leak the documents provided a real public service, considering the extent to which the government has overclassified historical documents, even those dealing with topics from three decades earlier. As investigative journalist Robert Parry recently explained in an article defending Manning’s actions,

I thought of Pvt. Bradley Manning when I recently received a response to one of my Freedom of Information Act requests to Ronald Reagan’s presidential library. I was seeking documents about President Reagan’s secret strategy of aiding Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in its war with Iran.

Reagan’s tilt to Iraq in the early 1980s – while his administration also was winking at Israeli weapons sales to Iran – was part of a clandestine U.S. approach to the region which generated huge profits for arms dealers while feeding sectarian violence and political animosities that echo to the present day. It seemed to me that it was way past time to know the full truth.

However, though many of the events in question are now more than 30 years old – and thus are commonly thought to be readily accessible under FOIA – the reality is that the U.S. government still makes seeing such documents extremely difficult.

The letter from the Reagan library said the archivists would not even begin to process my request for “128 months,” that is more than 10 years, and then the process would involve time-consuming declassification reviews in which various agencies with “equity” interests would each have to sign off, along with whoever the sitting president is.

So, essentially, without courageous whistleblowers and leakers such as Bradley Manning willing to take the risks of providing classified documents to news outlets such as WikiLeaks, Americans may be denied access to information in perpetuity, even regarding events that took place over a generation ago.

There’s also the matter of whether Manning was within his rights and duties as a soldier to release information of wrongdoing. A recent column by legal expert Marjorie Cohn makes the case that not only was Manning right to release these documents, but according to the law, actually had a legal mandate to do so.

“Manning fulfilled his legal duty to report war crimes,” Cohn says. “He complied with his legal duty to obey lawful orders but also his legal duty to disobey unlawful orders.”

She further explains,

Section 499 of the Army Field Manual states, “Every violation of the law of war is a war crime.” The law of war is contained in the Geneva Conventions.

Article 85 of the First Protocol to the Geneva Conventions describes making the civilian population or individual civilians the object of attack as a grave breach. The firing on and killing of civilians shown in the “Collateral Murder” video violated this provision of Geneva. …

Enshrined in the US Army Subject Schedule No. 27-1 is “the obligation to report all violations of the law of war.” At his guilty plea hearing, Manning explained that he had gone to his chain of command and asked them to investigate the “Collateral Murder” video and other “war porn,” but his superiors refused. “I was disturbed by the response to injured children,” Manning stated. He was also bothered by the soldiers depicted in the video who “seemed to not value human life by referring to [their targets] as ‘dead bastards.’ “

Whether Manning’s actions were worth it in terms of the positive effects they have had is certainly a matter of debate, especially considering the enormous personal costs he is paying for those actions, and the unfortunate reality that Americans are generally ambivalent when it comes to war crimes and other violations of international norms committed by their government. But what’s beyond debate is that his heart was in the right place.

As his lawyer David Coombs pointed out in his opening arguments yesterday,

He was 22 years old. He was young. He was a little naive in believing that the information that he selected could actually make a difference. But he was good intentioned in that he was selecting information that he hoped would make a difference.

He wasn’t selecting information because it was wanted by WikiLeaks. He wasn’t selecting information because of some 2009 most wanted list. He was selecting information because he believed that this information needed to be public. At the time that he released the information he was concentrating on what the American public would think about that information, not whether or not the enemy would get access to it, and he had absolutely no actual knowledge of whether the enemy would gain access to it.

Young, naive, but good intentioned.

Fortunately, although being largely abandoned by mainstream human rights groups and forgotten by the international community, Manning does have significant support, as demonstrated by a rally over the weekend including the antiwar groups Veterans for Peace and Code Pink.

Protests mark Bradley Manning’s 1,000th day of pre-trial imprisonment

1000 days

Protests took place in dozens of cities across the world yesterday to mark the 1,000th day that accused WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning has spent in prison without a trial. Manning was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq on suspicion of having passed classified material to WikiLeaks, including evidence of war crimes and other violations of international law by the United States.

Despite failing to provide any evidence of how the information disclosed by Manning has put any lives in danger or concretely damaged national security, the U.S. government has charged him with “aiding the enemy,” a charge akin to treason which carries a potential death sentence. Prosecutors however have said they will not seek the death penalty, instead seeking life in prison for the young Army private.

Manning has been held in detention for nearly three years despite military law setting a maximum of 120 days of detention before a trial. His pre-trial punishment is also a grave breach of his rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States has subscribed. The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations has held that confinement of more than six months is incompatible with article 9 (3) of the ICCPR, which states:

Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement.

In providing practical guidelines for the use of pre-trial confinement, the UN’s Handbook of International Standards relating to Pre-Trial Detention recommends that governments establish a maximum period of time during which a person may be detained without trial, and if a prisoner’s detention exceeds that amount of time, the he or she shall be released. The Handbook notes, however, that any guideline on maximum pre-trial detention must abide by international standards.

Manning’s supporters note that as someone motivated by his conscience to expose evidence of war crimes committed by the U.S. military, he should be considered a prisoner of conscience and released. Indeed, the government’s own evidence against him consists mainly of online chat logs between Manning and his friend Adrian Lamo (who ultimately betrayed him), chat logs which reveal that Manning’s motivations for leaking the government’s secrets were purely altruistic:

(12:15:11 PM) bradass87: hypothetical question: if you had free reign over classified networks for long periods of time… say, 8-9 months… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?
(12:16:38 PM) bradass87: or Guantanamo, Bagram, Bucca, Taji, VBC for that matter…
(12:17:47 PM) bradass87: things that would have an impact on 6.7 billion people
(12:21:24 PM) bradass87: say… a database of half a million events during the iraq war… from 2004 to 2009… with reports, date time groups, lat-lon locations, casualty figures… ? or 260,000 state department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world, explaining how the first world exploits the third, in detail, from an internal perspective?

Michael Ratner, the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, summarized the situation well in an article yesterday:

America, Bradley Manning stood up for your right to know what the government does in your name and with your tax dollars. The truth was ugly, eye-opening, embarrassing for the Bush and Obama administrations alike. It also came at a high cost: As of today, Bradley Manning has spent over 1,000 days in prison without trial. He was tortured. And if the U.S. government gets its way, he will have a trial marred by secrecy and spend the rest of his life locked up.

He also notes that the government is doing all it can to ensure that Manning is convicted, even if that means abrogating his right to a fair trial. In particular, the government is not allowing the soldier to explain his motivations in defending his actions, which could make it nearly impossible for him to prove that he never intended to “aid the enemy.”

The government is trying to charge Manning under the Espionage Act, accusing him of aiding Al Qaeda. They are subjecting him to incredible pressure to implicate his publisher, WikiLeaks, and they are making not just his legal defense but also media coverage of his case practically impossible.

Walking into the pre-trial hearings has been like waking up in a Franz Kafka novel: endless proceedings, one’s legal defense made impossible. This is quickly becoming the government’s playbook for whistleblower cases. Jeremy Hammond’s case is a concurrent example. Aaron Swartz’s a tragic one.

And so, despite the excellent work David Coombs is doing to defend Manning, I wonder if anything short of massive mobilization by the American people will change this brave soldier’s fate. How can his lawyer defend him when the key evidence the government is supposedly using to claim Manning harmed U.S. national security can be withheld? How can he show Manning did not intend to “aid the enemy” when the judge will not allow him to present evidence about Manning’s motives for releasing the information? It’s outright absurd.

At a pre-trial hearing in January, a military judge ruled that Manning had been subjected to illegal pretrial punishment while held in a military prison in Quantico, Virginia. Col. Denise Lind found that during the nine months he spent in solitary confinement in a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., the treatment he received was “more rigorous than necessary.”

She credited a total of 112 days toward any prison sentence Manning receives if convicted. Instead, his supporters call for the soldier’s immediate release.

Manning’s lawyer David Coombs points out that although prosecutors were supposed to arraign Manning within 120 days, they took well over 600. Coombs has also showed substantial periods of their inactivity and needless delay, despite a legal requirement to remain actively diligent throughout the proceedings.

As the Bradley Manning Support Network puts it, “Manning’s due process rights have been clearly violated, and the only legal remedy is to dismiss charges.”

To support the efforts to free Bradley Manning, click here.

New details reveal further violations of international standards in Bradley Manning’s treatment

As Bradley Manning’s lawyer David Coombs reported in a blog post on Friday, a three-star Marine Corps general provided the orders to hold the Wikileaks suspect as a maximum-custody detainee under prevention-of-injury watch (POI), leaving Manning isolated, mistreated by his guards and routinely denied his basic rights under the U.S. Constitution and international law.

While his prolonged pre-trial confinement (over 800 days, so far) has been widely criticized as a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of a “speedy trial” and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ guarantee of being “brought promptly before a judge” and being granted a “trial within a reasonable time or to release,” Coombs’ new details reveal a number of other serious breaches of international norms.

Coombs described the treatment as a “flagrant violation” of Manning’s right to not be punished prior to trial and has filed a motion asking for the charges against Manning to be dismissed on these grounds.

In its motion to dismiss, “the Defense argues that a decision had been made early on at Quantico to keep PFC Manning in MAX Custody and in Prevention of Injury (POI) status — in effect, the functional equivalent of solitary confinement,” Coombs wrote on his blog.

Besides being held in solitary confinement for 11 months, Manning was denied meaningful exercise, social interaction, sunlight, and on a number of occasions he was forced to stay completely naked.

As Coombs chronicles on his blog:

PFC Manning was awoken at 0500 hours and required to remain awake in his cell from 0500 to 2200 hours.

PFC Manning was not permitted to lie down on his rack during the duty day.  Nor was PFC Manning permitted to lean his back against the cell wall; he had to sit upright on his rack without any back support.

Whenever PFC Manning was moved outside his cell, the entire facility was locked down.

Whenever PFC Manning was moved outside his cell, he was shackled with metal hand and leg restraints and accompanied by at least two guards.

From 29 July 2010 to 10 December 2010, PFC Manning was permitted only 20 minutes of “sunshine call.”  Aside from a 3-5 minute shower, this would be the only time PFC Manning would regularly spend outside his cell.  During this sunshine call, he would be brought to a small concrete yard, about half to a third of the size of a basketball court.  PFC Manning would be permitted to walk around the yard in hand and leg shackles, while being accompanied by a Brig guard at his immediate side (the guard would have his hand on PFC Manning’s back).  Two to three other guards would also be present observing PFC Manning.  PFC Manning would usually walk in figure-eights or some other pattern.  He was not permitted to sit down or stay stationary. …

From 10 December 2010 onward, PFC Manning was permitted a one hour recreation call.  At this point, the Brig authorized the removal of his hand and leg shackles and PFC Manning was no longer required to be accompanied by a Brig guard at his immediate side.  Although PFC Manning was technically “permitted” to use exercise equipment at the gym, most of this equipment was unplugged or broken down.  In addition, depending on the guards, they would not permit him to use certain types of equipment (e.g. the chin up bar).  So as to avoid any problems with the guards, PFC Manning would usually walk around the room as he had during his sunshine calls.  Three or four guards would be monitoring PFC Manning during his recreation call. …

PFC Manning was not permitted any work duty.

A number of these restrictions violated Manning’s rights as a prisoner guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Manning’s denial of work and exercise opportunities, for example, was a clear breach of the Standard Minimum Rules, which state that “An untried prisoner shall always be offered opportunity to work, but shall not be required to work. If he chooses to work, he shall be paid for it.” Further, “Every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits.”

The shackles that Manning was forced to wear while out of his cell, if not necessary for safety purposes, were also likely out of step with the Standard Minimum Rules, which state: “Instruments of restraint, such as handcuffs, chains, irons and strait-jackets, shall never be applied as a punishment.”

Manning’s forced nudity, besides being a generally cruel and unusual humiliation technique, clearly breached the letter and spirit of Standard Minimum Rules’ stipulation that “An untried prisoner shall be allowed to wear his own clothing if it is clean and suitable.”

The length of Manning’s pre-trial confinement is another area of concern, with his time in detention far exceeding international standards.

The fact that Manning has been awaiting trial in prison for more than two years is a grave breach of his rights under the ICCPR, to which the United States has subscribed. The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations has held that confinement of more than six months is incompatible with article 9 (3) of the ICCPR, which states:

Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement.

In providing practical guidelines for the use of pre-trial confinement, the UN’s Handbook of International Standards relating to Pre-Trial Detention recommends that governments establish a maximum period of time during which a person may be detained without trial, and if a prisoner’s detention exceeds that amount of time, the he or she shall be released. The Handbook notes, however, that any guideline on maximum pre-trial detention must abide by international standards.

With these concerns in mind, the treatment that Manning has endured has come under intense criticism.

In an open letter to President Obama, members of Congress and Pentagon officials last November, members of the European Parliament expressed concern that “Manning has been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and other abusive treatment tantamount to torture.”

Manning’s solitary confinement regime “constitute[d] at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture,” according to Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. “If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture,” he told the Guardian earlier this year.

Manning’s defense team has requested that Mendez be allowed to testify at Manning’s next round of hearings scheduled for later this month, but the presiding judge has denied the request. Army Col. Denise Lind told Manning’s attorneys that Mendez would be barred from presenting testimony since he had not actually met with Manning while under the solitary confinement regime.

Mendez had attempted to meet with Manning in private while he was held in solitary confinement, of course, but the U.S. authorities denied him the opportunity.

The various prevarications by the United States are leading some to question whether the Army private will be able to receive anything resembling a fair trial.

This is especially the case since both President Obama and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey have declared publicly, prior to trial, that Manning “broke the law.”

Their statements have likely prejudiced the proceedings with Unlawful Command Influence under article 17 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and are  in violation of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which state: “Unconvicted prisoners are presumed to be innocent and shall be treated as such.”

To sign a petition to President Obama demanding that the charges against Pfc. Bradley Manning be dropped, click here.

Solitary confinement under scrutiny in Senate

Tomorrow, the same day that the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is scheduled to vote on whether to impose sanctions on Russian officials for rights violations in Russian prisons, the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights is taking up an issue closer to home: the widespread use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

The hearing, entitled “Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal and Public Safety Consequences,” is scheduled to include several witnesses, including prison officials, legal advocates and a former death row prisoner who spent years in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit.

The Institute for Southern Studies notes that the hearing “comes on the heels of widespread prisoner hunger strikes that have made the use of solitary confinement a central issue.” Last year, a prisoner hunger strike at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison prompted a state-wide strike that gained international notoriety.

It also follows some rather outspoken criticism from the international community on the subject of solitary confinement, with Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, stating recently that lengthy solitary confinement can cause serious mental and physical damage and should be considered torture.

Mendez has proposed that all solitary confinement longer than 15 days be outlawed.

“It can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pretrial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles,” he said.

Mendez has also specifically criticized the United States for its mistreatment of world-renowned prisoner of conscience Bradley Manning, the accused whistleblower who spent 11 months in solitary confinement at a military brig in Virginia and is now awaiting trial at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.

Mendez has noted that Manning’s treatment violated international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture.

As Mendez told the Guardian newspaper:

I conclude that the 11 months under conditions of solitary confinement (regardless of the name given to his regime by the prison authorities) constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture. If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.

In an open letter to President Obama, members of Congress and Pentagon officials last November, members of the European Parliament expressed concern that “Manning has been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and other abusive treatment tantamount to torture.”

Amnesty International, the ACLU and other human rights organizations have also taken up the issue of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. Amnesty has launched a campaign specifically on behalf of the Angola 3, who have spent decades in solitary confinement in Louisiana.

“For nearly 40 years,” notes Amnesty,

Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have been held in solitary confinement, mostly in the Louisiana State Penitentiary (known as Angola prison). Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, originally convicted of unrelated cases of armed robbery, were convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1972. Robert King, locked up for robbery, was also convicted of murder once he was in the prison. The most fortunate of the so-called “Angola 3,” his conviction was overturned in 2001, and he was released after 29 years of isolation.

Throughout their prolonged incarceration in Closed Cell Restriction (CCR) Woodfox and Wallace have endured very restrictive conditions, including periods of 23 hour cell confinement. Louisiana prison authorities have failed to meaningfully review the men’s continued isolation, simply rubberstamping the original decision to confine the men in CCR. Decades of solitary confinement have had a clear psychological effect on the men, and they both suffer from serious health problems caused or made worse by their years of close confinement.

In April, Amnesty International submitted a petition to the governor of Louisiana with over 67,000 signatures from individuals in 125 countries demanding that Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace be removed from long-term isolation. The governor, however, refused to meet with the delegation.

The ACLU has initiated a campaign to end prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons altogether, noting that it “is cruel and inhumane, costs too much and does nothing to make society safer.”

Studies show there are an estimated 20,000-25,000 individuals currently being held in solitary confinement in the United States.

The Senate hearing tomorrow, to be chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), will examine the psychological and psychiatric impact on prisoners during and after their isolation, the higher costs of running solitary housing units, the human rights issues surrounding the use of isolation, and successful state reforms in this area.

It will be streamed live at the subcommittee’s website. For more information, see SolitaryWatch.com.

Mumia Abu-Jamal in general population for first time in 31 years

For the first time since his arrest in 1981 for allegedly killing a Philadelphia police officer, world-renowned death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was transferred to general prison population on Jan. 27. He had been held in Administrative Custody, also known as “The Hole” or solitary confinement, at SCI Mahanoy since Philadelphia prosecutor Seth Williams announced he would not pursue the death penalty against the imprisoned journalist seven weeks ago.

The move to general population came within hours of the of delivery of over 5,500 signed petitions to Pennsylvania Department of Corrections headquarters and a complaint filed with the support of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez.

Mumia’s supporters had launched a campaign in early January, directed at the Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections, SCI Mahanoy, and DA Seth Williams, calling for his immediate transfer to general population.

statement  circulated by Prison Radio and the Human Rights Coalition described Mumia’s conditions in solitary, noting that they were even worse than the conditions of his 30+ years on death row. The statement also highlighted the plight of the tens of thousands of other inmates being held in solitary confinement across the country.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is being held in extremely repressive conditions. And like thousands of prisoners, residents of solitary confinement and isolation units in every hole in every prison across the country, Mumia is being subject to draconian, dehumanizing and brutal conditions. Solitary confinement. He is shackled whenever he is outside his cell, even to the shower. He is shackled around his ankles, waist and wrist.  He is shackled while behind Plexiglas during visits. Subject to strip searches before and after visits. Unable to walk freely. Having bits of paper to write notes on, with a rubber flex pen. No shelves, 4 books.  No access to news reports, letters delayed. Restricted visiting. Glaring lights on 24 hours a day. Only one brief phone call to his wife. No access to adequate food or commissary. These conditions are worse than death row.

The National Lawyers Guild, for whom Mumia Abu-Jamal serves as vice president, noted that these conditions amount to torture under international law.

“Mumia’s move off death row is a hollow victory if it means he is subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in violation of the United Nations Convention against Torture,” said NLG Executive Director Heidi Boghosian.

Indeed, as Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, has stated, lengthy solitary confinement can cause serious mental and physical damage and should be considered torture.

Mendez has proposed that all solitary confinement longer than 15 days should be outlawed.

“It can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pretrial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles,” he said.

Studies show there are an estimated 20,000-25,000 individuals currently being held in solitary confinement in the United States.

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