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CI: A Dirge for Tucker, Torture, and Dirty Work

January 28, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, International Law, Military Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

 

A Dirge for Tucker, Torture, and Dirty Work

by Kay Whitlock

We all have our ghosts, the memories of singular people and events in our lives that changed us forever, in ways we still struggle to define with emotional clarity, and so haunt us still.

For the most part, these ghosts exist in the shadows of our lives, half-remembered more or less as we actually experienced them and half-invoked in service of personal storylines about who we wish we really were, who we think we are, who we hope to be – and, conversely, who we do not want to be.

The ghost I have been visited by most recently is a man, long dissolved into dust, probably tortured to death in Vietnam, having been responsible, in part, for the torture and assassination of countless Vietnamese people. His name is Tucker Gougelmann. He is the 78th person to be commemorated with a star on the Wall of Honor at CIA headquarters.

I knew him briefly, by accident or dumb luck, if you can call it that, in the years between 1972 and 1975, before the repatriation of (at least some of) his broken bones. I knew him not well but vividly. His very presence, by definition, was vivid.

It would be easy to hate him, but I don’t; I never have. My responses are much more complicated and have to do with a furious, searing, and ceaseless grief. He never really goes away. What am I supposed to do with him?

Tucker Gougelmann, on the right”

Tucker Gougelmann, on the right”

I suppose he rises again now from the miasma of the past to disturb my heart and spirit for several reasons. The first is the December 2014 release of the report on the CIA’s post-9/11 use of torture from the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.   The second is the relative placement of two recently-released feature films, Selma and American Sniper, in the contest for primacy in the American imagination – the Academy Award nominations be damned.

The third is the powerful and necessary campaign for reparations for survivors of Chicago police torture.  Next are the seemingly endless pre- and post-Ferguson killings of black people by police, security guards, and vigilantes in the United States.

Finally, there is my personal, apparently never-ending, search to explore the question why the most massive forms of violence are so terribly ordinary and routine, and how and why so many of us refuse to recognize or care about it; why we let it go on and on and on. And the subsequent, essential question: how is it possible to transform such lethal indifference and contempt, which produces systemic violence, into structural manifestations of civic goodness and generosity? (That is a question Michael Bronski and I explore in Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics. )

And finally, it has something to do with my personal, apparently never-ending, exploration of why the most massive forms of violence are so terribly ordinary and routine, and how and why so many of us refuse to recognize or care about it. And the subsequent, essential question: how is it possible to transform such lethal indifference into structural manifestations of civic goodness, generosity, and community wholeness?

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CI: Forty-Two Years

December 31, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Police State, Prison Industrial Complex

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Forty-Two Years: Free Albert Woodfox
by International Coalition to Free the Angola 3

Editors Note: As 2014 comes to a close, we remember all who have suffered under the long reach of policing and punishment – prisoners, their families, their communities, the living and the dead. Some names are known; many are not. Of those we have come to know,as political prisoners, few have been tortured longer than Albert Woodfox, the last incarcerated member of the Angola 3. (Robert King was released in 2001 and Herman Wallace was released 3 days before his death in 2013). It is long past time to set him — and all of us — Free.

On February 26, 2013, Albert Woodfox’s conviction was overturned for a third time. The two previous overturned convictions had been reinstated by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, on November 20, 2014,  the Fifth Circuit ruled against the Louisiana Attorney General’s request to reinstate Albert’s conviction for a third time, upholding the 2013 lower court ruling by a unanimous 3who -0 decision.

Today, in Homer Louisiana, Albert Woodfox remains in his cell – 42 years in solitary and held under increasingly severe restrictions. From the unnecessary and extensive use of the black-box during transport, to the ‘catch-22′ system making it impossible for Albert to have contact visits, it appears that the response to his most recent court victory is to continue turning the screws ever tighter.

Not surprisingly, the Louisiana Attorney General has filed an appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court asking them to review their recent ruling that upheld a lower court’s 2013 overturning of Albert’s conviction. We anticipate a response from the Fifth Circuit in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, want to register our concern with the Louisiana Department of Corrections about the recent denial of contact visits to Albert, as explained further in the section below. We hope you’ll join us in contacting the Department of Corrections to request that they apply their visitation policy fairly.

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CI: Torture and the Lie: “That’s Not Who We Are”

December 17, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex, Police State, Prison Industrial Complex

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

 

CI: Torture and the Lie: “That’s Not Who We Are”

by Kay Whitlock

“That’s not who we are.”

The phrase is repeated endlessly, like a mantra, in the wake of the release of the redacted 525-page executive summary of the post- 9/11 “torture report” – the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program [PDF].  Even President Obama uttered it.

It’s a reassuring phrase that seeks to (ever so) briefly acknowledge some expression of sadistic violence inflicted by powerful people on vulnerable others that somehow, inconveniently,  enters public awareness. At the same time, it asserts this violence is an aberration, a temporary departure from American values of goodness, freedom, and democracy. Others take refuge in the idea that recent torture revelations are evidence that a once moral nation has “lost its way.”

More accurate phrases would be: “That’s not how we want to see ourselves,” or “That’s not who we wish we were.” Or even just “Blame somebody, anybody else, except me/us.”

But torture is who “we” are as a society, whether we want to believe it or not.  It is not a case of unintentionally wandering astray, off some unambiguously moral and ethical path so designated by unambiguously good people. No amount of denial or distancing from that terrible and painful truth can change the reality that torture isn’t – and never was – primarily the province of evil others – “extremists,” psychopaths, crazed loners and misfits, depraved criminals, terrorists, and a handful of “bad apples.”  The real culprits are much closer to home; often, they look, uncomfortably, just like you and me.

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CI: Albert Woodfox Speaks to the Experts

May 07, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Albert Woodfox Speaks to the Experts

Editors Note: The essay featured below, Albert Woodfox Speaks to theExperts, from the Why Am I Not Suprised? blog is reprinted in full with permission of the author and Angola 3 News. Now 42 years since Albert was first put in solitary, Amnesty International has renewed its call for Albert’s immediate release (view Amnesty’s recent statement and essay). If you have not yet done so, please sign the Amnesty petition today.

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CI: Stand Against Solitary

February 26, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Military Industrial Complex, Prison Industrial Complex

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Stand Against Solitary
by nancy a heitzeg

For Roses in Concrete

prison-hungerstrike-poster

“Prison policy is usually shaped out of public view, but the duration and visibility of the hunger strike has helped make the subject politically urgent. Last week, New York State agreed to extensive new restrictions on whom it could confine to its SHU. This week, in Washington, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing titled “Reassessing Solitary Confinement.” Other states have also curtailed the use of isolation recently—Indiana, where change was compelled by a federal judge’s ruling, and Maine, Mississippi, and Colorado, which had faced pressure from prisoners’-rights groups. These changes are too few to constitute a total rejection of the practice. But for the first time, it has begun to seem plausible that the American attachment to this special kind of imprisonment is not a national peculiarity so much as a generational one, and that a 25-year experiment may be ending.”  ~ “The Plot from Solitary”, by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine

The struggle to end the tortuous use of solitary confinement is a grim one. Like the movement to abolish the death penalty, it forces us to grapple with horrifying details of life in box, buried alive, slow motion death – the gradual, state-sponsored decay of both body and mind. Worse still even,  victory in the abolition of these practices will never be enough. They are mere symptoms of the pathology of mass incarceration, mere branches never the root, that end up afflicting a numerical minority of those 2.3 million persons who languish, one way or another, in the context of the prison industrial complex. Yet resist we must.

Excessive and extensive use of long term solitary confinement is amongst the most egregious of the many human rights violations in US prisons and jails. The practice is now so pervasive that, according to Solitary Watch: “Based on available data, there are at least 80,000 prisoners in isolated confinement on any given day in America’s prisons and jails, including some 25,000 in long-term solitary in supermax prisons.” These stints are no longer the “proverbial “30 days in the hole” but regular conditions of confinement that last for decades, sometimes, as in the cases of Hugo Pinell and Albert Woodfox  ranging up to 40 years. There is widespread agreement that this is tantamount to torture.

The routinization and expansion of long term solitary confinement in the late 20th century is intended to control – not just individual inmates, but the general population as well. Indefinite and ambiguously administered solitary confinement looms as a threat to all. It is no accident that the proliferation of control units and SuperMax prisons emerges in the aftermath of successful inmate organizing and a growing connection between “imprisoned intellectuals “ and the community outside. ( See Strategizing to Defeat Control Unit Prisons and Solitary Confinement –An interview with author/activist Nancy Kurshan ) Control units serve decidedly political functions – they are meant to quell dissent and stymy inmate organizing.

Despite some particular and short-lived successes, even here the Carceral State has failed. The legal victories noted below all emanate from inmates themselves who have managed to be heard, to reach out, to organize and mobilize, even from 6 feet under. Roses that grew in concrete. More power to them.

Melanie Cervantes and Dignidad Rebelde

Melanie Cervantes and Dignidad Rebelde

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CI: Prison Privatization Part 1, Another Cautionary Tale from California

October 30, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Prison Privatization Part 1, Another Cautionary Tale from California
by nancy a heitzeg

For some time now,  we at Criminal InJustice have been asking what the real end game of the “bi-partisan” prison reform was going to be. Was the “Right on Crime” Right really interested in reducing mass incarceration? Are “Law and Order” Democrats ready to turn their backs on the harsh Drug War mandatory minimums that were promoted a nd passed on their watch? Given the opportunity to really reduce the size and scope of the prison industrial complex would either side take it? Would they reject th elkong lingering influence of ALEC inspired legislation? Or would this be just another shell game, where the public costs of mass incarceration are funneled instead towards private sector profit, with little concern for remedying the inherent race, class, gender, and sexual biases of the criminal legal system?

We suspected the latter, and early evidence out of California suggests that this is the case. As, and as with all aspects of the contemporary prison industrial complex, the path California takes may be the bell weather.

It is California - the Golden Gulag – that brings us the expansion of the modern pic – driven by a draconian three strikes law ( just recently revised), the proliferation of gang legislation, correctional spending that far outstrips educational investments, excessive use of solitary confinement and SuperMax conditions, and a powerful police officer and prison guard union that stands in the way of any meaningful efforts to reduce mass incarceration. (See The PIC Old School/New School 2 for a complete discussion of these issues and their impact on the California “correctional sysem”).

brownCalifornia engineered a prison-building and filling project that is “”biggest in the history of the world”,  which until recently imprisoned in sheers numbers more than any state. More prisoners than Louisiana, than Florida, probably still more than Texas even if we count those transferred to county jails — nearly a quarter million locked away. Numbers so excessive they made the SCOTUS blink and declare that the extreme over-crowding must be reduced by as many as 30,000 inmates. This over-crowding is especially egregious at the Central California Women’s Facility at Chowchilla, the world’s largest prison for women, which is currently housing nearly double capacity. And although California has not conducted an execution in 7 years, it still retains – by far – the largest death row in the nation.

Almost three years ago the Supreme Court ruled that the California system was so over-crowded that it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The case, Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Governor of California, et al., Appellants v. Marciano Plata et al., centered on shortage of health care and the resultant de facto denial of mental and physical treatment. An average of one inmate per week died as a result of malpractice or neglect. (Please see Prison Health Care as Punishment for an overview and Shumate v. Wilson for a specific look at health care issues for women in California’s prisons).

The Court affirmed a federal decree requiring state officials to reduce the prison population to 110,000, which is 137.5 percent of the system’s capacity (At the peak of over-crowding, the system was at 200% capacity, even with some 9000 prisoners housed out of state. Inmates were housed in bunks in gyms, hallways and any extra nook and cranny). California is required to reduce the population by 30,000 inmate< by July of 2013.

An opportunity, right?? A chance to reduce the prison population with relatively little political fall-out — just following SCOTUS orders – with the support of a Democratically controlled State Assembly.

Did Governor Jerry Brown take this opening and put action to the rhetoric of “criminal justice reform”?

To the contrary,  Brown tripled down on incarceration with a dangerous new twist. Since the  Supreme Court order, Governor Brown has resisted in every way possible and engaged in an elaborate shell game designed to maintain or increase actual incarceration rates.

Some low-lights follow.

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CI: Torture at Home

September 11, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Torture at Home
by nancy a heitzeg

As the nation notes another passing of 9/11 and now debates what “line” is too far, as the California Prisoners end their third hunger in as many years, as i reflect back on the most recent CI diaries — stories of tasing and trauma, police excess and solitary, the anniversary of the Attica Uprising – one word emerges as a unifying thread.

Torture.

In the post-9/11 era, much attention has been paid to the torture tactics endorsed by the Bush regime in the so-called “War on Terror”. The use of torture  in clear violation of a number of international agreements and accords.

The United Nations, in the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, defines torture as follows:

unArticle 1
For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

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Torture Chamber USA: Day 40

August 16, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Torture Chamber USA ~ The Prison Industrial Complex by Emory Douglas

Torture Chamber USA ~ The Prison Industrial Complex by Emory Douglas

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