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For the past year and a half we've watched the White House announce the end of torture and immunity for torturers, two policies that appear incompatible and have proven to be so. We've seen the White House claim the right to torture, and seen that greeted with silence and an averted gaze by those pretending torture is over. We've seen report after report of ongoing torture greeted with silence from the same pretenders, among whom we must include Congress. And we've seen civil liberties and human rights groups that refused to support the impeachment of Bush advocate for prosecutions for a while, but continue to back the wars that create the torture. The ACLU is supporting the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell despite its combination with a war-funding bill. And as the evidence of ongoing torture begins to sink in, we will see anti-torture advocates begin to understand that prosecutions would have to include prosecutions of Democrat
Coalition Endorses Recommendations of New Report on Health Professional Involvement in Torture, Calls for APA Action
The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology applauds the release yesterday of an important new report titled “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror,” funded by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and the Open Society Foundations. The report from a distinguished panel of military, medical, public health, legal, and ethics experts provides a detailed account of the unethical involvement of health professionals – including psychologists – in abusive and torturous U.S. detention and interrogation operations.
The IMAP report, which follows a similar bipartisan report on detainee treatment from The Constitution Project, offers clear and feasible recommendations for urgent reforms that professional associations, including the American Psychological Association (APA), should now pursue. The Coalition strongly supports these recommendations calling upon health professionals to put ethical considerations at the center of any involvement in national security work. Unfortunately, the APA press release in response to the IMAP report falls well short of the transparency and engagement called for in the report. The APA overstates and misrepresents its current efforts in at least three critical ways:
1. The IMAP report calls for fact-finding investigations and disciplinary action against psychologists who have violated ethical standards. The APA, however, has failed to adequately address ethics complaints brought against APA members for their alleged involvement in the torture and abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. In particular, the APA quickly dismissed without meaningful investigation a complaint against Larry James, former chief BSCT psychologist at Guantánamo. Furthermore, a complaint filed over six years ago against John Leso, also a former Guantanamo BSCT psychologist, still remains unadjudicated by the APA’s ethics office. The APA press release ignores these complaints.
2. In its response to the IMAP report, the APA press release refers to the 2008 Referendum as an organizational accomplishment. However, this policy was the result of grassroots membership efforts opposed by the APA leadership. The Referendum prohibits psychologists from working in national security settings, such as Guantánamo and the CIA’s secret prisons, which violate international law or the U.S. Constitution. But to date the APA has failed to take meaningful action to implement and enforce the prohibitions. Psychologists continue to serve at Guantánamo.
3. The IMAP report recommends that APA “repudiate the report of its Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security” (the PENS Report). The APA press release misleadingly asserts that the recent adoption of its “reconciled policy” on anti-torture resolutions and the rescission of the PENS Report represent steps consistent with this recommendation. But in this context repudiation and rescis
To adequately respond to the important recommendations of the IMAP report, the Association must adjudicate the pending ethics complaints against BSCT psychologists and make certain that such cases are properly handled in the future. The APA must fully work to implement the Referendum policy and acknowledge that places like Guantánamo Bay and other national security detention settings violate U.S. and international law. The APA must also repudiate the PENS Report, which continues to raise serious questions about the Association’s independence from the military/intelligence establishment on matters of professional ethics. These are just several steps in policy and organizational reform that would help ensure that the ethical, human rights, and legal violations cited in the IMAP and other reports will never occur again. We call upon all psychologists, APA members and non-members alike, to pressure the Association to take these steps.
Jean Maria Arrigo
For the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology
North American Anarchist Black Cross Medical Justice Committee statement on the state of health care of Political Prisoners in the U.S.
Denver, October 16, 2013 - On October 4, 2013, the world lost one of its greatest fighters in the struggle against oppression and injustice. Herman Wallace spent 41 years in solitary confinement after being targeted by the state for his work against racism and oppression from within the prison system. Amnesty International and mainstream news sources recently highlighted the release of Herman Wallace from prison. Tragically, Herman was able to breathe the air of freedom for only 3 days before he passed away. Herman was denied any kind of compassionate release by the state of Louisiana, despite his advanced liver cancer and the prognosis of a mere two months to live. Though it was the circumstances of his original conviction that compelled a judge to grant Herman his freedom, it was the state’s lack of concern for his medical condition that led to the resurgence of public and media interest in his case.
Herman was just one of many, ageing political prisoners (and prisoners of war) in the United States who are currently being denied adequate medical care and the compassionate release for which they qualify. These people are incarcerated for their opposition to actions or policies of the US government that are in violation of human rights, and as such should be afforded the protections of international law. It is the opinion of the North American Anarchist Black Cross Medical Justice Committee that these captured dissidents and combatants be granted compassionate release and dignified medical care, with respect to their age, health and sacrifice in service of legitimate struggles against oppression and exploitation. It was too little, too late for Herman; that must not be the fate of our other elder comrades.
Unfortunately, cases like Herman’s are far too common. Albert “Nuh” Washington, Bashir Hameed and Marilyn Buck are other recent victims of prison medical neglect. Some, such as Merle Africa, have died under suspicious medical circumstances. More will soon follow, if swift action is not taken.
Lynne Stewart is a 73 year old movement attorney convicted of materially aiding a terrorist organization for issuing two press releases on behalf of her client Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman. Lynne was initially sentenced to 2 years in prison. But after publicly claiming that she could survive the 2 years, the government appealed her sentencing and she was punitively re-sentenced to an outrageous 10 years in prison. Diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer prior to her sentencing in 2009, Lynne was denied compassionate release because the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) claimed "she is not suffering from a condition which is terminal within 18 months," though treating physicians have estimated her life expectancy at 12 to 18 months. She is currently awaiting a decision from an independent committee within the BOP. From there it will go to the director of the BOP for the final recommendation and request for a motion to the Judge. Lynne’s health deteriorates daily. Her case is one example of many ongoing cases of medical neglect, including Abdul Majid, Robert Seth Hayes, Tom Manning, Jalil Muntaqim, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Chelsea Manning, and Leonard Peltier.
There are currently over 100 political prisoners in the United States. These women and men are listed and recognized as political prisoners by numerous human rights, legal defense and progressive/socialist organizations. They come from the Civil Rights/Black Power/New African Liberation struggles, the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, Indigenous Peoples survival struggles, Chicano/Mexicano Movements, anti-imperialist/anti-war movements, anti-racist/anti-fascist struggles, the Women’s Movement, social and economic justice struggles, and especially in the past several years, from the Environmental/Animal Rights movement. They are Black, white, Latino and Native American. Most of these political prisoners have been in captivity since the 1970s and 80s. Some were convicted on totally fabricated charges, others for nebulous political conspiracies or for acts of resistance. All received huge sentences for their political beliefs or actions in support of these beliefs.
Despite international recognition of political prisoners within the US, the US government continues to deny their existence. An article in the Harvard Black Letter Law Journal Vol. 18, states that “Despite their prevalence in United States society, U.S. Government officials have long denied the very existence of political prisoners. When Andrew Young, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, publicly acknowledged the existence of over 100 political prisoners in his country, he was swiftly removed from office.” - The Reality of Political Prisoners in the United States: What September 11 Taught Us About Defending Themby J. Soffiyah Elijah
The harsh punitive conditions of confinement, often in special “control unit” type prisons, that political prisoners face daily, decade after decade, exposes and refutes this government myth.
The Geneva Conventions contain the internationally recognized standard of care for prisoners of war. The standard of care for Political Prisoners in the United States ought to be at least as sound as the Geneva Conventions. It currently is not. We have many ageing comrades struggling for the most basic health care while incarcerated. Even the Office of the Inspector General found that the existing BOP compassionate release program has been poorly managed and implemented inconsistently, likely resulting in eligible inmates not being considered for release and in terminally ill inmates dying before their requests were decided, as noted in the Department of Justice April 2013 review of the BOP compassionate release program . We cannot allow this to keep happening. What’s happened to Herman Wallace should never happen again. No one should die in prison. Least of all, perhaps, those who have spent their lives fighting oppression and injustice.
The Faces of Medical Neglect
The problem of medical neglect is a systematic one and affects many Political Prisoners / Prisoners of War. Following you will find some examples of folks who are suffering right now, as well as a list of people who have died because of medical neglect in prison or who were denied compassionate release before dying in prison:
•Abdul Majid: Black Liberation Army / Republic of New Afrika POW who recently suffered pressure on his sciatic nerve and was rendered unable to walk. After a week in this condition, he still had not been seen by a doctor, despite following the "sick call" procedure and all other necessary steps to get medical attention. After a call-in campaign, he was seen by a doctor but had not received the surgery he needed. It is presumed he is still unable to.
•Oso Blanco (Byron Shane Chubbuck): Indigenous POW, long-term chronic liver patient. Oso Blanco has been denied medical treatment for daily vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, irregular breathing, etc. He was unable to eat and had a large, hard mass in his liver, though Florence medical staff refused to do anything about it except look in his cell and pronounce him "fine." A call in / letter-writing campaign was necessary to get him a blood test, and he still did not receive a proper ultrasound (which was part of the call-in request). More answers from Oso are required before Dr. Lana Habash can properly interpret the results of his blood test. Oso also faced retribution from the call in campaign in the forms of mail being held and phone calls being cut short. As of right now he is still experiencing liver pain.
•Robert Seth Hayes: Black Liberation Army POW with Type II diabetes and Hep C. Seth has been fighting for adequate blood sugar monitoring since 2000. He had been consistently denied medical care for frequent, insulin-shock-induced blackouts in 2004 at Clinton Correctional facility. In 2009, when his sugar plunged to 32 and then up to 620 in a short amount of time, he had a seizure, for which he was taken off of honor block and thrown in keep-lock in Wende Correctional facility (supposedly a medical facility, though they denied him the diabetic diet necessary for his health). In August of 2012, at Sullivan Correctional Facility, he broke his index and middle fingers (injuries to the hands and feet, which can heal on their own, are very dangerous for diabetics). He was given x-rays and seen only by a physician’s assistant (not a doctor), and the diagnosis as to which fingers were broken kept changing. He has now lost the full range of motion in his hand.
•Tom Manning: United Freedom Front POW. In February of 2010, he needed a transfer to a medical prison to biopsy a lump in his groin, under his nipple and inside his shoulder blade. Recently, he was in need of knee replacement surgery. Also suffering from two tears in his shoulder tendons and advanced muscle atrophy, he was unable to lift a cup and unable to participate in the physical therapy necessary for walking (after eventually getting the knee replacement surgery). Nothing was done until a call in campaign was launched.
•Jalil Muntaqim: Black Liberation Army POW. Jalil had a stroke in January. The treating physician recommended he be transferred to an outside hospital, but the head physician refused. Four months later, he was given a CT scan, which reported brain damage consistent with a stroke. In June he was finally taken to Wende, where a neurologist examined him. After refusing Jalil's request for an MRI, the neurologist said that all the damage that will be done has been done, and that he should continue to exercise as he has been.
•Mutulu Shakur: Black Liberation Army / Republic of New Afrika POW, up for release in 2015. Mutulu has yet to be given physical therapy for the stroke he suffered in February.
•Chelsea Manning: "Whistleblower" who made available thousands of classified files pertaining to US war crimes / crimes against humanity. We do not know if her gender reassignment needs will be met by the military prison in which she is incarcerated, and how this will affect her physically and psychologically (she has already been subjected to torture while in the penal system).
•Leonard Peltier: American Indian Movement POW who had a prostate cancer scare (was exhibiting symptoms) in 2010. In June of that year, after being pressured by lawyers and the community, the BOP ordered blood tests. He received the results 4 months later. A biopsy was deemed necessary for proper diagnosis (and had not been performed as of April, 2011), and even if cancer is/was not present, a serious medical condition was nonetheless indicated by his symptoms. He has suffered a stroke which left him partially blind in one eye. For many years, he had a seriously debilitating jaw condition which left him unable to chew properly and caused consistent pain and headaches. The prison medical facilities could not properly treat this condition. In fact, two prison surgeries only worsened Leonard Peltier's condition. A physician from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, offered to repair Leonard Peltier's jaw free-of-charge, but was turned down again and again by prison authorities until the United Nations sharply rebuked the United States for subjecting Leonard Peltier to inhumane conditions. Surgery was performed and Leonard's condition improved somewhat. Subsequent surgeries are required, however, to fully address his condition. To date, such treatment has not been approved by prison officials. In recent years, Leonard Peltier has again begun to experience severe discomfort related to his jaw, teeth, and gums. Today, Leonard Peltier suffers from bone spurs in his feet and is affected by diabetes, high blood pressure, a heart condition, and other emerging health issues. According to an affiliate of Physicians for Human Rights, he risks blindness, kidney failure, and stroke given his inadequate diet, living conditions, and health care.
- Bashir Hameed, a Deputy Chairman in the Black Panther Party and COINTELPRO target, was charged and convicted of the murder and the attempted murder of two police officers in April 1981. This conviction came as a direct result of his political activity. Bashir Hameed and his co-defendant, Abdul Majid were tried three times (Queens Two) before the state was able to convict them. Bashir was serving a sentence of 25 years to life when, in 2008, he began to physically suffer. He was continuously denied any kind of medical attention or care. In May 2008, the Anarchist Black Cross Federation joined with comrades from Malcolm X Commemoration Committee, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Jericho Movement to coordinate call-in days during the month of June of 2008, demanding immediate medical attention. By early July, Hameed was receiving the requested care and testing thanks to consistent agitation from his family and supporters. Bashir Hameed died from complications of a triple bypass surgery at the New York prison system on August 30th 2008 because the prison administration refused to take him to an outside hospital.
-Kuwasi Balagoon, a member of the Black Liberation Army. Captured and convicted of various crimes against the State, he spent much of the 1970s in prison, escaping twice. After each escape, he went underground and resumed BLA activity. He was captured in December 1981, charged with participating in an armoured truck expropriation in West Nyack, New York, on October 21 of that year, an action in which two police officers and a money courier were killed. Convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, he died of pneumocystis carninii pneumonia, an AIDS-related illness, on December 13, 1986.
-Albert Nuh Washington, former member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army. Washington was imprisoned in 1971 as a result of the U.S. government`s war against the Black Liberation Movement and subsequently spent 29 years as a political prisoner (one of the New York Three). He died of cancer in the U.S. prison system on April 28, 2000.
Indefinite Detention and Force-Feeding Are Torture!
Pack the Court to Demand Justice for Guantánamo Detainees
Friday, October 18 at US District Court
333 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, . D.C
Enter court at 9 am; Nasal tube feeding and vigil at 11 am
Beginning last February, more than 100 men at Guantánamo engaged in a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention. To try to break the protest, the US military subjected dozens of the hunger strikers to the cruel and degrading practice of nasogastric force-feeding.
On October 18, the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, DC will hear a case, first ruled on in July, seeking an injunction against force-feeding at Guantánamo on the grounds that it violates human rights and the right of religious worship. The case goes to the heart of the evil of the prison, as it argues that the purpose of force-feeding is to sustain an illegal and immoral policy of indefinite detention.
Anti-torture groups are asking that we pack the courtroom to show our support for the attorneys arguing the case and their clients at Guantanamo.
We will gather at 9 am to enter court.
Let us know if you can join us by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrés Thomas Conteris — on day 103 of a water-only fast — will undergo a nasal tube feeding in solidarity with the men at Guantánamo and to dramatize the cruelty of force-feeding. Conteris, who has lost 57 pounds, has undergone nasogastric feedings at the White House, in Oakland, California, and at US embassies in Uruguay and Argentina. Conteris, age 52, began his fast at the height of the Guantánamo hunger strike July 8, when thousands of US prisoners began hunger striking to protest the use of extended solitary confinement at Pelican Bay and other prisons.
The nasal tube feeding will begin at 11 am, directly after the hearing of the Guantanamo case.
Seventeen men remain on hunger strike at Guantánamo, with sixteen force-fed. Senators Dianne Feinstein and John McCain, the American Medical Association, and the United Nations have all denounced force-feeding.
Prompted by the hunger strike and the global outcry against Guantánamo, President Obama on May 23, 2013 renewed his pledge to close the prison. Since that time, only two prisoners, both among the 86 long cleared for release by the US government, have been freed.
Witness Against Torture
***SAVE THE DATE(S) -- Jan. 6-13, 2014 (Fast for Justice in Washington DC)...details coming soon.
by War Criminals Watch Torture suspect and former U.S. Vice President Richard (Dick) Cheney is scheduled to speak at the Toronto Global Forum, October 31, 2013, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The event is hosted by the International Economic Forum of the Americas.
(Toronto) Torture suspect and former U.S. Vice President Richard (Dick) Cheney is scheduled to speak at the Toronto Global Forum, October 31, 2013, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The event is hosted by the International Economic Forum of the Americas.
Lawyers and others are urging Canada to either bar Dick Cheney from Canada as a person credibly accused of torture – or to arrest and prosecute him on arrival, as required by the Convention against Torture. That Dick Cheney authorized, directed and failed to prevent the widespread use of torture by US officials on non-Americans detained in off-shore prisons is no longer open to question. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has determined that torture suspects temporarily in Canada must be dealt with in accordance with the Convention.
A letter has been sent to Canada’s Prime Minister, Attorney General and Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Immigration advising them of Canada’s legal obligations. For a complete copy of the letter submitted click here.
Gail Davidson, spokesperson for Lawyers Against the War noted, "Evidence of Dick Cheney’s involvement in torture and other gross human rights abuses is overwhelming. It is time for the law to step in."
"Former Vice President Cheney led the Bush administration into a war based on lies which destroyed Iraq, directing a far-flung regime of torture, rendition and detention he referred to as 'the dark side.' He should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of the conventions against torture," stated Debra Sweet, director of World Can’t Wait.
"Thus far the U.S. has failed to prosecute anyone up the chain of command for abuses that have occurred in the highest offices of the United States of America, setting a precedent for future leaders to repeat the same crimes," states Nancy Mancias, CODEPINK organizer. "We look to the leaders in Canada to take steps to ban former Vice President Dick Cheney from entering the country because of his involvement in torture and the Iraq war."
Lawyers Against the War(LAW) is a Canada-based committee of jurists and others who oppose war and advocate for adherence to international humanitarian law and against impunity for violators.
World Can't Wait is a US-based movement formed to halt and reverse the terrible program of war and repression, initiated by the Bush/Cheney regime as well as the on-going crimes that continue to this day – www.worldcantwait.net. War Criminals Watch is a project of World Can’t Wait – www.warcriminalswatch.org.
CODEPINK is a US women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end US- funded wars and occupations, to challenge militarism globall, and to redirect our resources into health care, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities –www.codepink.org.
Cross-Posted from FireDogLake
On September 9, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director David Petraeus -- who also formerly headed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) International Security Assistance Force for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and co-wrote the Counterinsurgency Field Manual -- began a new job as an adjunct professor at City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College.
The routine never varies here, so I was startled when there was a knock, followed immediately by a key turning in the door. “It’s not time for breakfast yet,” I told Henry, the massive attendant.
“Get dressed anyway,” he told me. “The Director wants you in his office in fifteen minutes.”
By John Grant
Every generation occupies itself with interpreting Trickster anew.
By Alfredo Lopez
The Bradley Manning verdict may seem a victory of sorts for the defense -- it's certainly being treated that way in the mainstream media -- but the decision handed down Tuesday by Court Marshal Judge Colonel Denise Lind is actually a devastating blow not only to Manning, who was convicted of unjustifiably serious charges brought by an aggressive administration seeking to make an example of him, but also to Internet activity in general and information-sharing in particular.
Judith Newman is, together with Allen Hornblum and Gregory Dober, author of Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America. She discusses the background for and the extent of non-consentual experimentation on human beings, in particular underprivileged children, in the United States through the twentieth century.
Dr. Judith Newman has been a faculty member at Penn State's Abington College for 36 years and has been the recipient of several outstanding teaching awards during that time. Dr. Newman teaches a wide array of life-span developmental courses, from Infancy and Early Childhood to Adult Development and Aging. She also teaches an Ethics course for students entering the mental health field.
For a discussion that touches on current forced sterilization of women in California prisons see last week's program at http://davidswanson.org/node/4098
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
Syndicated by Pacifica Network.
Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!
Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at
Activists on Long-term Hunger Strike to Close US Prison at Guantanamo
Will Simulate Forced-Feeding Outside Senate Office Building
Washington, DC -- At noon on July 30, 2013 several American activists who have been on a long-term hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay prison will hold a press conference and a creative demonstration outside of the Hart Senate building on Capitol Hill.
The action will begin with a simulated force-feeding session that shows the brutality of this process of strapping down the prisoner, shoving a feeding tube down his nose and pouring Ensure into his writhing body. There will be doctors present to explain the grueling physical repercussions of the hunger strike and force-feeding.
Over 30 of the 100 hunger strikers at Guantanamo are currently being force-fed, a practice which the American Medical Association says constitutes torture. Activists will highlight the egregious nature of this practice and demand that the Congress and President Obama address the demands of the hunger strikers for justice instead of force-feeding them.
The action will be followed by a press conference featuring activists on long-term solidarity hunger strikes:
Vietnam veteran Elliott Adams, former President of Veterans For Peace, on day 70 of his strike, and
Tarak Kauff, a Board member of Veterans For Peace, who will be on day 53.
These activists have put their bodies on the line to draw attention to the plight of the prisoners at Guantanamo who face indefinite detention without charge or trial.
“I am on hunger strike in solidarity with prisoners in Guantanamo,” said Tarak Kauff. “Eighty-six of them have been cleared for release for years now, but remain in prison because Congress and President Obama lack the political will to act. So it’s up to us, as Americans of conscience, to draw attention to their plight and demand that our elected officials take action immediately.”
The long fasting veterans will also express their solidarity with hundreds of prisoners in California who have been hunger striking for over three weeks, calling for an end to indefinite solitary confinement and other prison abuses.
For more information, visit www.CloseGitmo.net
By John Grant
by Debra Sweet This is day #162, with 80 or more prisoners on strike, 45 of them being force-fed. There was a temporary federal court order against the new genital searches, but that has been overturned, and the searches have not stopped. Some prisoners report to their attorneys having their rectums searched ten times a day as punishment and pressure to drop the hunger strike.
By Dave Lindorff
Ah, the rule of law. How often we hear our government leaders angrily demand that the rest of the world adhere to this sacred stricture, most recently as it demands that countries -- even countries with which the US has signed no extradition treaty like Russia or China -- honor the US charges leveled against National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and send him to the US for trial.
Announcing video contest examining torture and torture accountability: Open to amateurs and professionals.
June 30, 2013, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA--The Tackling Torture Video Contest is accepting entries now. It is open to both amateur and professional filmmakers.
· Four prizes:
§ $500 jury prize for the serious category,
§ $500 jury prize for the humorous/satirical category, and
By Dave Lindorff
Now that Edward Snowden is safely away out of the clutches of the US police state, at least for now, let’s take a moment to contemplate how this one brave man’s principled confrontation with the Orwellian US government has damaged our national security state.
By Dave Lindorff
Just for the sake of argument, let's suspend our disbelief for a moment and pretend (I know it's a stretch) that the Obama administration and the apologists for the nation's spy apparatus in Congress, Democratic and Republican, are telling us the gods' honest truth.
There are probably more innocent men and women in prison in the United States now than there were people in prison here total -- innocent and guilty -- 30 years ago, or than there are total people in prison (proportionately or as an absolute number) in most nations on earth.
I don't mean that people are locked up for actions that shouldn't be considered crimes, although they are. I don't mean that people are policed and indicted and prosecuted by a racist system that makes some people far more likely to end up in prison than other people guilty of the same actions, although that is true, just as it's also true that the justice system works better for the wealthy than for the poor. I am referring rather to men (it's mostly men) who have been wrongly convicted of crimes they simply did not commit. I'm not even counting Guantanamo or Bagram or immigrants' prisons. I'm talking about the prisons just up the road, full of people from just down the road.
I don't know whether wrongful convictions have increased as a percentage of convictions. What has indisputably increased is the number of convictions and the lengths of sentences. The prison population has skyrocketed. It's multiplied several fold. And it's done so during a political climate that has rewarded legislators, judges, prosecutors, and police for locking people up -- and not for preventing the conviction of innocents. This growth does not correlate in any way with an underlying growth in crime.
At the same time, evidence has emerged of a pattern of wrongful convictions. This emerging evidence is largely the result of prosecutions during the 1980s, primarily for rape but also for murder, before DNA testing had come into its own, but when evidence (including semen and blood) was sometimes preserved. Other factors have contributed: messy murderers, rapists who didn't use condoms, advances in DNA science that helps to convict the guilty as well as to free the innocent, avenues for appeal that were in some ways wider before the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, and the heroic work of a relative handful of people.
An examination of the plea bargains and trials that put people behind bars ought to make clear to anyone that many of those convicted are innocent. But DNA exonerations have opened a lot of eyes to that fact. The trouble is that most convicts do not have anything that can be tested for DNA to prove their guilt or innocence. Here are 1,138 documented exonerations out of that tiny fraction of the overall prison population for which there was evidence to test. One study found that 6% of these prisoners are innocent. If you could extrapolate that to the whole population you'd be talking about 136,000 innocent people in U.S. prisons today. In the 1990s, a federal inquiry found that DNA testing, then new, was clearing 25% of primary suspects. You do the math.
Of course you can't simply do the math, because wrongful convictions could be higher or lower for the available sample than for all prisoners. What we can be sure of is that we are talking about a large number of people whose lives (and the lives of their loved ones) have been ruined -- not to mention the lives of additional victims of actual criminals left free.
One way to be fairly sure that the rate of wrongful conviction carries over, at least very roughly, to a variety of criminal prosecutions is to examine how those convictions came about. Brandon Garrett's Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong examines the prosecutions of the first 250 people exonerated by DNA testing. Garrett finds broad systemic problems that could be remedied but largely have not been.
Of the 250, 76% were misidentified by an eyewitness -- most of the witnesses having been led to that act by police and/or prosecutor, some of them badgered and threatened, others merely manipulated. Invalid forensic science expertise contributed to 61% of the convictions, much of it willfully manipulated, some fraction perhaps attributable to well-intentioned but negligent incompetence. Informants, mostly jailhouse informants, and most of them manipulated and bribed by police or prosecutor, helped out in 21% of the trials. In 16% of the cases, the accused supposedly confessed to the crime, but these "confessions" tended to be the result of police intimidation, manipulation, brutality, and simple lying. Garrett fears that similar problems infect the U.S. justice system as a whole.
Garrett focuses on problems in policy and perspective. People who believe all eyewitnesses are correct and truthful can mean well and nonetheless get an important point wrong. People who aren't aware that false confessions exist won't look for them. But people unaware of such things are not typically part of the criminal justice system, where awareness of these problems is built in but steamrolled over. Judges ask whether witnesses were improperly led to misidentify a witness, but care little for the answers they receive. While Garrett begins and ends his book by claiming that pretty much everyone means well, the intervening pages grown under the weight of endless malevolence. In reading the book, I found myself over and over again scribbling "Did this guy mean well?" in the margin.
Do police feeding a false confession to their victim mean well? When they falsely report on that procedure to a court do they mean well? When they use tape recorders but shut them off each time they feed the prisoner new facts, do they mean well? When they hide evidence? When they destroy evidence? When they stack lineups and pressure witnesses to make identifications? When they hypnotize witnesses? When the prosecutor employs junk science and knowingly makes false claims about it? When simple procedures to avoid bias are known but avoided? When expert witnesses lie for a living? When crime labs alter reports to coverup exculpatory evidence? When police or prosecutors bribe other convicts or codefendants to testify and tell them what to say, but lie about that procedure? When the defense is denied competent counsel or the ability to call witnesses? When the judge effectively acts as part of the prosecution? When jurors pressure and threaten a fellow juror to vote "guilty"?
"It is almost unheard of for prosecutors to be disciplined or sanctioned for misconduct," writes Garrett, who is no doubt also familiar with this saying: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Garrett believes that serious reforms are needed, and points to North Carolina where a commission has been set up to aid in freeing and not convicting the innocent. If you imagine that that's what appeals courts are for, read how they handled these 250 cases. In 23 cases, the victim was tried more than once for the same crime. One in a blue moon the system works and frees an innocent -- just often enough to keep hope floating out there like a lottery ticket in the distance. Even when DNA clears a prisoner, a prosecutor may propose to try him again, and then do nothing for years while he rots in prison waiting. North Carolina has passed legislation reforming procedures for eyewitnesses, requiring the recording of interrogations, enhancing the preservation of evidence and access to DNA testing, etc.
But one of the major reforms needed is clearly a reform of attitude. And that probably will come more quickly if we recognize what current attitudes are. Jurors and judges should be aware of how often many prosecutors and police officers pursue conviction at the expense of the truth. They should not prejudge in that direction any more than in the other, but they should be aware of what they are up against. If, as a society, we valued the freedom of innocents as much as the punishment of the guilty, we would treat judges and prosecutors and defense attorneys and police differently. We would reward protection of the innocent as much as convictions. A "successful" prosecution would be redefined as one that, first, did no harm. The police officer who found an alibi for a suspect would be praised and promoted just like the officer who found evidence of his guilt. A defendant might even someday find it possible to gain representation from an attorney who at least pretended to believe in at least the possibility of his innocence, and who behaved accordingly.
In the meantime, we are generating and compounding tragedies by the thousands. When James O'Donnell was wrongly convicted, he exploded with anger and cursed the judge and jury. Then he composed himself and said, "I am really sorry for my outburst. I tried to be as civil as possible. I would never do a crime like this. And my life is over now as I know it, my wife and kids' life. I don't understand how the jury did this to me. It's really not right, what they did. I was home in bed. I was sleeping. I would never hit a woman. I have a wife. I never hit my kids, ever. I never forced a woman to do anything in my whole life. That's the God's honest truth . . . It's just -- I'm very sorry for my outburst. Don't take my life away, please."
By Dave Lindorff
I hate to do this, but I feel obligated to share, as the story unfolds, my creeping concern that the writer Naomi Wolf is not whom she purports to be, and that her motive in writing an article on her public Facebook page speculating about whether National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden might actually be still working for the NSA, could be to support the government’s effort to destroy him.
A report on June 11, 2013 from Reuters calls Richard Falk, the United Nations human rights investigator for Palestine, ‘embattled’, apparently because he has once again refused to dance to the U.S.-Israel tune. At a forum of the U.N. Human Rights Council, he called for an inquiry into what he sees as the torture of Palestinians in Israeli custody. The U.S., of course, with its own shocking record of torturing its political prisoners in Guantanamo, Iraq, and who knows where else, boycotted the debate. Israel did the same, accusing the forum of anti-Israel bias.
You’re invited to mark Torture Awareness Month.
Healing a Culture of Torture - 6/25/2013
Lutheran Church of the Reformation - 212 E. Capitol St.
Washington DC 20003
Reception: 6:30 pm Presentation: 7:00 - 9:00 pm
• Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
REVIEWS: ZERO DARK THIRTY (Movie)
by Karen Malpede
TORTURE: ASIAN AND GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES | FEB-APR 2013 VOLUME 02 NUMBER 01
‘Zero Dark Thirty’. Director, Kathryn Bigelow. Screenwriter, Mark Boal. Sony Pictures, December 2012; & ‘Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror’. By, Victoria Brittain. Pluto Press, February 2013.
Whenever the long arm of state-sponsored violence reaches into the lives of ordinary people, the artist, the writer, face choices, moral and esthetic. They can look away. Most do so, turning attention strictly to domestic or historical matters. Or, like film director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, they can take the story power tells and retell it as it has been told to them, in this case by the CIA, which provided the filmmakers special access to the archives on the hunt for, and slaying of, Usama bin Laden.
By Dan DeWalt
This week, the government began their assault against private Bradley Manning. Even though he has already plead guilty to misusing classified documents and faces twenty years in prison, prosecutors want him branded as having aided the enemy, with a life sentence to go along.
By Dave Lindorff
Anyone who was a fan of the old ABC TV series “The Untouchables” or of the later series, also on ABC, called “The FBI,” would know something is terribly fishy about the FBI slaying of Ibragim Todashev.
With U.S. approval of Congress holding steady at a whopping 15%, one wonders just who it is the elected representatives are representing. Perhaps we can answer that question, by looking at some of their recent activities, and considering some of the things currently left undone.
The Deepening Shame of Guantanamo
Editor Note: For more than a decade, the Guantanamo Bay prison has been a blot on America’s conscience. President Obama vowed to close it but acceded to congressional demands to keep it open. Now, an emerging humanitarian crisis – a mass hunger strike – is drawing only scant attention.
By Ray McGovern
There have been nine congressional hearings on the Benghazi controversy – with more to come – but almost no one in Congress dares put the spotlight on the unfolding scandal surrounding the Guantanamo Bay prison where most of the remaining 166 inmates have opted to “escape” from indefinite detention via the only way open to them – starving themselves to death.
By Dave Lindorff
The Boston Marathon bombing has already demonstrated the best and the worst of America for all the world to see.
Protest Actions Demand End to Indefinite Detention, Closure of Prison
What: Rallies, Protests, Visual Photo-ops
Where: 16 U.S. Cities including SF Bay Area (more to be announced)
When: Thursday April 11, 2013
San Francisco protest:
4:30 PM rally NEW Federal Building, San Francisco (7th/Mission);
“Prisoners’ Processional” march to Powell/Market
5:30 vigil at Powell/Market
Across the U.S. on Thursday, street protests will support prisoners detained at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo who are engaged in a large-scale hunger strike which began in early February. Some prisoners are now in critical condition.
“The vast majority of the 166 men have been held for more than eleven years without any charge or fair trial, with no end to their detention in sight. The Obama administration must take swift measures to humanely address the immediate causes of the hunger strike and fulfill its promise to close Guantánamo” says a statement from World Can’t Wait andWitness Against Torture.
The prisoners’ action, described by a U.S. military spokesman as an “orchestrated event intended to garner media attention,” has begun to achieve “just that, and we intend to magnify their voices,” say the protesters. The Boston Globehas urged President Obama to close the prison because keeping Guantánamo open is “a challenge to our reputation around the world.” The New York Times said the prisoners’ action is “exposing the lawlessness of the system that marooned them there,” describing the indefinite detention of men long cleared for release as the “essence of what has been wrong with Guantánamo from the start.”
Protesters demand that action be taken by the U.S. government in time to save the lives of the prisoners, with the aim of closing the prison. In Chicago and San Francisco, nine protesters will wear orange jumpsuits to represent the nine men who have already died in Guantánamo waiting for justice.
At noon in Washington, D.C. protesters will gather at the White House to focus on the president’s 2009 promise to close Guantánamo.
Full information on the protests nationwide.