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Hullabaloo


Friday, February 21, 2014

 
Yes Virginia, America does torture. A lot more than anyone realizes.

by digby


“This government does not torture people" President George W. Bush

"I have said repeatedly that America doesn't torture, and I'm going to make sure that we don't torture" President Barack Obama

In my writing about Guantanamo and the other US prison camps around the world I've often remarked at the odd construction of those comments --- odd for them to say "doesn't" instead of "didn't" when asked directly if the US government authorized torture. (But then there would be a little matter of war crimes and the like ... )I've also evoked those comments with respect to rampant police tasering, which is electric shock torture used to coerce compliance with authority, in this case of citizens who have not been charged and are not even (usually) in police custody.

But this powerful op-ed in today's New York Times highlights yet another example of "America" torturing, and in this case torturing thousands of its own citizens who are incarcerated. It's a first person account of a prison official's experience in solitary confinement for 24 hours:
In regular Ad Seg, inmates can have books or TVs. But in R.F.P. Ad Seg, no personal property is allowed. The room is about 7 by 13 feet. What little there is inside — bed, toilet, sink — is steel and screwed to the floor.

First thing you notice is that it’s anything but quiet. You’re immersed in a drone of garbled noise — other inmates’ blaring TVs, distant conversations, shouted arguments. I couldn’t make sense of any of it, and was left feeling twitchy and paranoid. I kept waiting for the lights to turn off, to signal the end of the day. But the lights did not shut off. I began to count the small holes carved in the walls. Tiny grooves made by inmates who’d chipped away at the cell as the cell chipped away at them.

For a sound mind, those are daunting circumstances. But every prison in America has become a dumping ground for the mentally ill, and often the “worst of the worst” — some of society’s most unsound minds — are dumped in Ad Seg.

If an inmate acts up, we slam a steel door on him. Ad Seg allows a prison to run more efficiently for a period of time, but by placing a difficult offender in isolation you have not solved the problem — only delayed or more likely exacerbated it, not only for the prison, but ultimately for the public. Our job in corrections is to protect the community, not to release people who are worse than they were when they came in.

Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist and expert on confinement, described in a paper published last year the many psychological effects of solitary. Inmates reported nightmares, heart palpitations and “fear of impending nervous breakdowns.” He pointed to research from the 1980s that found that a third of those studied had experienced “paranoia, aggressive fantasies, and impulse control problems ... In almost all instances the prisoners had not previously experienced any of these psychiatric reactions.”
That's torture folks. And we are doing it prisons all over this country. When you factor in the prison rape, the over crowding, the disparate sentencing and the sheer numbers of inmates, it's hard to escape the obvious fact that the United States doesn't just torture, it's made an industry of it.

The state of New York has now offered up new "guidelines" for the use of solitary torture:
On Wednesday, corrections officials took a major step toward reform by agreeing to new guidelines for the maximum length prisoners may be placed in solitary. The state will also curb the use of solitary for the most vulnerable groups of inmates: those younger than 18 will receive at least five hours of exercise and other programming outside their cell five days a week, making New York the largest prison system yet to end the most extreme form of isolation for juveniles. Solitary confinement will be presumptively prohibited for pregnant women, and inmates with developmental disabilities will be held there for no more than 30 days.
That's nice. But it needs to be abolished. Allowing prisoners to keep their sanity is not a "privilege" that can be offered and taken away. It's a basic human right.

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