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CI: Torture, Lies, and Denial

May 13, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Police Brutality, 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.

 

Torture, Lies, and Denial
by Kay Whitlock

Torture.

It’s not somebody else’s problem. It’s an American problem. It’s our problem. We bear some measure of responsibility for it because it goes forward in our names, by public and private actors and institutions who comprise much of the mainstream of civic life.

Torture isn’t perpetrated by rogue actors and “bad apples.” It is foundational to American policing, prisons, and military action.

Many people seek to justify torture, or the euphemisms that try to disguise its nature:  “enhanced interrogation” and “special methods of questioning.” Others – most people – simply deny its existence or, if made uncomfortably aware of it,  make frantic efforts to explain it away and  cover up complicity in its authorization, administration, and human, ethical, and spiritual impact.

Politicians won’t make it stop. Professional advocates won’t make it stop. Religious leaders won’t make it stop. It can’t be arrested and jailed away; that’s part of the same mentality that produced it. Torture will only stop if we make it stop, through visionary as well as practical forms of movement building and community organizing that build unstoppable momentum, linking growing numbers of people across myriad constituencies and issues.

In light of several notable revelations concerning torture, Criminal Injustice is reprising an earlier post, with this new introduction.

On May 6, 2015, following decades of organizing, litigation, and journalism and, more recently, a concerted six-month grassroots campaign, the Chicago City Council passed an unprecedented reparations package for survivors of torture, administered by former Chicago Police Department commander Jon Burge and his “midnight crew” of detectives, and survivors’ families.

CI’s gratitude for this landmark victory goes to those who led the campaign -Chicago Torture Justice Memorials, Project NIA, We Charge Genocide, and Amnesty International – USA, as well as to everyone who actively supported it. We also express gratitude and respect to the People’s Law Office, especially Joey Mogul and Flint Taylor, for more than a quarter century of tireless effort to bring the torture of over 110 African American men and women to light and obtain justice.

The reparations package includes a formal apology for the torture; specialized counseling services to the Burge torture survivors and their family members on the South Side; free enrollment and job training in City Colleges for survivors and family members (including grandchildren) as well as prioritized access to other City programs, including help with housing, transportation and senior care; a history lesson about the Burge torture cases taught in Chicago Public schools to 8th and 10th graders; and the construction of a permanent public memorial to the survivors. It also sets aside $5.5 million for a Reparations Fund for Burge Torture Victims that will allow those still living to receive some measure of financial compensation for the torture they endured.

For decades, many Chicago officials tried to minimize awareness of this violence and the extent of its harm. It is now our job to ensure that the Rahm Emmanuel and subsequent administrations are never permitted to view this package as a “fine” to be paid and forgotten while business as usual, in the form of police violence, continues.  May this tangible acknowledgment serve to inspire us all to greater activism, to more urgent and sustained demands for accountability for violence administered not only by the state but with the active participation of professional individuals and organizations and corporations who reap benefits from their involvement.

And, as Joey Mogul rightly points out, “While the reparations for Burge survivors focus on a finite set of particularly egregious cases, they can serve as a model for what reparations might look like for systemic police abuse plaguing cities across the nation.”

Even as the police torture reparations victory was in the making in Chicago, it was confirmed through new disclosures of email communication  that the prestigious American Psychological Association (APA) had secretly worked to bolster “a legal and ethical justification” for the post-9/11 “war on terror.”  The APA, too has tried to deny this. But psychologists and other health care professionals play essential roles in implementing and providing cover for torture.

And torture was center stage in a court room in Boston, not under interrogation, but rather, as rationale for denying the death penalty. The  “defense” attorneys for now convicted Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev opened their arguments in the penalty phase with an appeal to the jury for sentencing to a “punishment worse than death.” Tsarnaev would spend his life, they said, buried alive in the ADX Supermax at Florence, Colorado. His life should be spared, they argued, so he could be sentenced instead to the slow motion torture of  this “living hell.”

Of course, this is the subtext of some resistance to capital punishment –  it isn’t punishment enough.  And yes, the defense in its’ contradictory everything but the kitchen sink approach to the penalty phase did call Sister Helen Prejean at last as a witness for mercy.

But the first and central defense argument was an open call to torture. And nothing can ever remove that stain.

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CI: A Tale of Two Prisons

April 01, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Government for Good, 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.

A Tale of Two Prisons
Editors Note by nancy a heitzeg

Recently, the New York Times has published two extensive features on prisons: one on the U.S. Supermax ADX at Florence Colorado, the other on Halden Fengsel in Norway.  While they stand singularly as institutional exposés, the power of the pieces is in the contrasts of the philosophies, the conditions, the results.

Of What Is and What Could Be.

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CI: A Glimpse…

March 04, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Immigration, Intersectionality, Police Brutality, Police State, 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.

 
A Glimpse...
Editors’ note by nancy a heitzeg

“The Constitution has always demanded less within the prison walls”. ~ Clarence Thomas, Dissenting in Garrison S. Johnson, Petitioner v. California et al. 2005

It has been true. Even as we catch a fleeting glimpse – here in recent headlines – the Constitution has been rendered largely silent.

And so have we.

Even as Many Eyes Watch, Brutality at Rikers Island Persists

The brutal confrontations were among 62 cases identified by The New York Times in which inmates were seriously injured by correction officers between last August and January, a period when city and federal officials had become increasingly focused on reining in violence at Rikers…

Screen-Shot-2013-06-10-at-12.30.27-PMAccording to Correction Department data, guards used physical force against inmates 4,074 times in 2014, the highest total in more than a decade. The increase came even as the jail’s average daily population continued to decline, falling to 10,000 this year from 14,000 a decade ago.

Seventy percent of the 62 beatings examined by The Times resulted in head injuries, even though department policies direct guards to avoid blows to the head unless absolutely necessary. And more than half the inmates sustained broken bones.

In October, a typical month, one inmate had his jaw shattered by a guard after being handcuffed and led into an elevator; another had his arm broken while handcuffed; and a third had three teeth knocked out.

The Times also identified 30 episodes from August to January in which officers suffered serious injuries in altercations with inmates. While most of the inmates involved sustained head injuries, nearly half the guards fractured bones in their hands and fingers, often after striking inmates in the head.

“Predictable” Riot at Texas Prison Followed Years of Complaints

The riots that broke out this weekend at a Texas prison featured in a 2011 FRONTLINE investigation erupted after years of complaints from inmates about poor conditions and abuse at the facility, and at least one previous protest.

Prisoners at the Willacy County Correctional Institution, most of them convicted for immigration or nonviolent drug offenses, set fire to the Kevlar tents where they are housed in a protest over medical care, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)….

Screen-Shot-2013-06-10-at-12.30.27-PMIn 2011, FRONTLINE uncovered more than a dozen allegations of sexual abuse by guards at the facility in Lost in Detention, as well as physical and racial abuse. At the time, Willacy was run by MTC for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The facility housed people who had not yet been convicted, but were awaiting immigration hearings. Guards were accused of harassing women for sexual favors, and in some cases sexually assaulting them. Other detainees were beaten by guards who cursed them with racial epithets…

New allegations later surfaced. In June 2014, the ACLU issued a report on Willacy and four other privately run prisons in Texas, and found the inmates there are subject to abuse and mistreatment, and prevented from connecting with their families.

At Willacy, inmates are crammed 200 at a time into squalid Kevlar tents, with no private space, the report found. Insects crawl through holes in the tents. The open toilets regularly overflow with sewage, and in 2013 several inmates camped out in the yard in protest. “They treat us like animals,” one person told the the civil-rights group.

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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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