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January 30, 2007


"Even if they were guilty, this would be wrong: having your mind and your spirit broken apart should not be the penalty for any crime."

Supermax Prisons ...Marion & Florence in the US

An early form of supermax-style prison unit appeared in Australia in 1975, when "Katingal" was built inside the Long Bay Correctional Centre in Sydney. Dubbed the "electronic zoo" by inmates, "Katingal" was a super-maximum prison block designed for sensory deprivation"

"Supermax and Special Housing United (SHU) prisons are controversial, as some claim[2] that they violate the United States Constitution. In 1996, a United Nations team assigned to investigate torture described SHU conditions as "inhuman and degrading".[3]"
"And now, for some unfathomable reason, we have decided to lock them up in solitary, where we are driving them insane."

Probably fathomable, but unspeakable.

Aw heck,I'll speak it.

When or if these innocent men ever get released, they will be lousy interviews and witnesses.

A question is how many officials would be criminally responsible in a just world.

As an Australian, let me hasten to add that Katingal was closed down within a few years of its construction and the Minister for Prisons lost his job as a result of the scandal (he later ended up in prison himself on unrelated corruption charges, BTW).

I really can't understand the thinking of the people responsible for these sort of things - it clearly has nothing to do with fighting crime or terrorism. I can only assume they are sadists.

There once (about a century ago) was the thought that sensory deprivation would be a tool in making the inmate realize where (s)he went wrong and that would speed up the rehabilitation process. The idea was that the inmate would be forced to deal with him/herself, if there was no "digression" and one could evade oneself only for so long.
It was realized pretty fast that it does not work that way.
Since then it has deteriorated to a tool to force confessions/information etc. and a "painless" (and without visible scars) method of breaking a personality.
The latter part seems to be the current intention to me (not just in Gitmo).
As one of the higher-ups in the command chain (Miller?)said: If you treat them as more than dogs, you have already lost (I hope that person doesn't keep pets).
What do you expect from a gang that shoots cage-bred fowl or had fun with sticking firecrackers into small animals?

In some senses, Camp 6 is worse than the supermax at Florence.

I wonder if future social scientists will find a link between our humiliation of these captives and our humiliating defeat in Iraq. (by which I mean our impotence when it comes to installing that secular Western-leaning democracy the advocates of the Iraq policy went on about in 2004-5).

The shorter line, though, is from the incidents last spring -- riots, attacks, and suicides. Rather than head for the secular Western-leaning democratic solution -- fair trials for all -- we seem to have gone simply the humiliation/revenge route.

Maybe some Admin cultist ought to stop by and remind us that since the prisoners are being fed lemon chicken and rice pilaf, everything's OK.

good stuff. makes me proud to be an American.

gonna go get me a flag to hang from the antenna of my car... upside down.

From the petition:

Truth is a tortoise, but it overtakes Propaganda's hare in the end. It will be so for Guantanamo. There is no doubt -- not the slightest -- of what that truth will show about these Petitioners, and what that truth, so long concealed, will say about this nation. The question for this Court, and for this Court alone, is whether that truth will be aired before, or after the Executive's senseless new regime of solitary confinement has driven innocent men insane.

From a previous petition in the same case that sounds a bit Mcmanus-like (filed before the subsequent habeas stripping, IIRC):

No just court would subject these petitioners to another eighteen months of Executive stalling and woolgathering in [another case]. While Congress never effectively stripped Petitioners' habeas corpus rights, the case for Petitioners' imprisonment is so contrived, so false, so shameless, so contemptible, so utterly without legal, moral or intellectual basis, so empty of integrity, so cynical an instance of realpolitik, that under any standard of review -- even the crabbed provision of the [Detainee Treatment Act] -- these cases cry out for immediate relief.

These cases have become a profound stain on the Judicial Branch itself. The imprisonment simply must be brought to an end.

In other news, the 11th Circuit reinstates conspiracy charge against Padilla.

I think Bob's right.

Moazzam Begg was kidnapped by US operatives in Pakistan in early 2001, and imprisoned for over three years - most of that time in Guantanamo Bay. He could have been released from Guantanamo Bay sooner, apparently, except that the UK government would not agree to keep him imprisoned indefinitely without trial in Britain. The US government still pretends to believe that Moazzam Begg, like Mahar Arar, is a terrorist.

The differences between Moazzam Begg and the Uighur prisoners are small but weighty: Begg had a cell phone on him when he was kidnapped, and was thus able to ring his father in the UK and tell him what had happened to him, so his family knew he had not just disappeared. And Begg is a British citizen, and the UK was evidently able to put pressure on the US to release its kidnap victims where they were British citizens. (Several people who have the right to remain in the UK but who do not have British citizenship are still being held in Guantanamo Bay, and, shamefully, the UK declines to apply the same pressure to get them out.)

Fortunately for the US, Begg appears to have decided that there is no point in raking up fresh hell for himself by demanding satisfaction from the US government for kidnapping him and imprisoning him for years. But, there are other kidnap victims, equally innocent, put through even worse hell than Moazzam Begg - and I think Bob's right: the strategy is to drive them insane so that they cannot be considered reliable witnesses in court.

I'm sure it's just an accident that the regime that sponsors anti-Darwinian educational curricula, i.e. Intelligent Design, also positions itself philosophically to govern by virtue of the Darwinian Imperative. I think I can hear Langoliers.

Meanwhile, more gov't spying.

Germany issues arrest warrants for 13 CIA operatives for the al Masri kidnapping.

I'll stop now.

It saddens me that more people are not outraged by such conduct.

Surely, that is the result of dehumanizing any and all persons held by our military as "terrorists."

For some reason, American is Jack Bauer without any remorse.

It's been so long since I read the Inferno, I no longer recall the particular circle of hell this deserves.

I'm sorry to say it, but unless we turn this stuff around, it's the beginning of the end of the US as a positive moral force in the world. For all of our many, many faults, we have, historically, stood for the rule of law and the integrity of the individual person. That has, actually, made a real and positive difference in the world. It's a hell of a legacy to throw away.

I'm not sure who will step up after us. Maybe Europe, maybe Canada. There has to be somebody, somewhere with some integrity left.

In any case, I hate to see it happening before my own eyes, in my own lifetime. It makes me really, really sad.

Thanks -

it's the beginning of the end of the US as a positive moral force in the world

i wonder if anyone but Americans don't already think the US is a net negative.

once again Battlestar Galactica is on top of today's pressing issues - I loved the latest episode, and how it plumbed the depths of 'non-violent' interrogation.

Balthar is a great character (and actor) btw.

Russell: it's the beginning of the end of the US as a positive moral force in the world.

That happened a long time ago. Who can say when? When the US decided to sponsor terrorism against democracy? Overthrow popular leaders to replace them with loyal-to-the-US dictators? Invade a country and kill millions in order to prevent free elections? The US hasn't been a positive moral force in the world for decades - but this fact is becoming more mainstream in the US, though self-evidently still not accepted by many Americans. (Right-wing Brits wouldn't accept that the UK is not a positive moral force in the world, either - and I disagree with them, too.)

more tales from the gulag:

german abductee sues CIA

Hilzoy: To convey what solitary confinement does to a person would take a truly gifted writer; luckily for us, a truly gifted writer made the attempt.

FWIW, your writing on this topic (as well as Katherine’s) has slowly moved me off my original position. I still seek some middle ground between my original position and yours, but each new posting you do on the topic moves me incrementally more in your direction.

Trust me – that is gifted writing.

One thing I find especially unsavoury in the Kurnaz case (another sueing Guantanamo ex-inmate) is that the CIA wanted to use him as a spy/mole as condition for his release. The German refusal to take part in this scheme resulted in him sitting 2 more years in Gitmo. At least that is what the German Minister of the Exterior claims to have happened (he may lose his job over it).

OCSteve: thanks; that means a lot.

I second OCSteve. Simply eloquent.

Since I always attempt to at least understand the motivation behind such appalling official behavior (you know, the rationalizations that are handed out to justify dehumanization and sadism), I think that in addition to breaking these men, thus turning them into unreliable witnesses in a court hearing, there is also sheer expediency in the idea that a prisoner who stares at his hands all day will represent no threat whatsoever to prison personnel, and that thus, all will be done to reduce risk. That this results in people going insane is, in the eyes of some of the officials, an unfortunate consequence of reducing the risks of incidents... (collateral damage)

I think that in addition to breaking these men, thus turning them into unreliable witnesses in a court hearing, there is also sheer expediency in the idea that a prisoner who stares at his hands all day will represent no threat whatsoever to prison personnel,

I do not think the motives are so explicit. I think the treatment of these prisoners comes from a combination of extreme arrogance, utter lack of decency, indifference to suffering, willingness to engage in random cruelty, and probably a feeling that members of an ethnic group with a "funny" and hard-to pronounce name don't deserve any consideration as human beings.

there's also the idea, shared by many, that people in these prisons are terrorists - otherwise they wouldn't be in prison - and anything you do to them is partial payback for 9/11.

You know, We Don't Torture! Where does it say in the constitution that anyone has a right to sanity anyway? Btw, terrorists are already insane or they wouldn't hate our freedoms!

The sad things is: Most people can't imagine the real effect of sensory deprivation and too many wouldn't care anyway. :-(

FWIW, your writing on this topic (as well as Katherine’s) has slowly moved me off my original position.

I, however, find your writing intensely depressing. I think you should tell us about the cheery side of torture!

What Anarch said.

But really, hilzoy, well written, quoted, reported. Thank you.

Any word on the young men who were thrown into Gitmo as children?

Wasn't Katingal Prison in Australia the model for the prison in the movie "Ghosts of the Civil Dead", which starred Nick Cave?

We (Australia) have a citizen in Gitmo. His story is big news at the moment. His Aus lawyer is visiting. Hicks (the inmate) has stated that he has been in solitary for the last 10 months, after he complained about his treatment, to his lawyer. He has not seen the sun nor had any fresh air and spends 22 out of 24 hours confined to his cell. The Aus govt takes whatever the US tells them as fact and questions nothing. PM John Howard says that Hicks will be charged by Friday (2nd Feb) as he requested.(big deal) But it is the lawyers ( Hicks and other detainees) fault that no trials can/have happened. It appears that Hicks may actually have something to answer for, unlike many of the detainees. But, of course, this is no way excuses his treatment. He should have been brought home and faced trial here.

The following is a list of news stories from the Nine Network if anyone is interested.

Speaking of http://www.smh.com.au/news/WORLD/Hicks-shown-hanged-Saddam-photo-lawyers/2007/02/01/1169919449892.html>Hicks. As messages go, this one, from US soldiers to GTMO prisoners, is beyond odd:

Non-English words accompanying a poster containing the photos of Saddam's trial, according to Hicks's lawyers, read: "Because Saddam chose not to co-operate and not tell the truth, because he thought by lying he would get released, for that reason he was executed."
I can't imagine that they think the prisoners are not going to learn the truth of why SH was executed. Doesn't this, then, seem kind of crazy?

"Non-English words"? That's pretty odd itself, beyond the content. Didn't whoever was able to read the words say what language they were in?

This is plain English: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/31/AR2007013101867.html>Just Wait.

U S citizens read your own history Civil war between the north and the south and learn of the conditions of your own people

That's the same judge presiding in the Libby case, yes?

God damn to hell every member of the House and Senate who voted for the MCA.

Nell: Yes. Judge Walton hasn't been helpful in detainee cases. Not the worst, but definitely not the best either. He took this action to get out of ruling on the pending motions, which were coming in at a fairly good clip right now. The most common of these (we had one too) was to order the government to produce a classified file, so that lawyers could meet the February 23 deadline for submissions to the ARB. Oh well.

We also had a motion for an order requiring 30 days notice before transferring the client to some other country, a big damn deal for a stateless person.

(We already have both for our other client, who's case is before a different judge).

Betty, I think we'd like to think that we've gone beyond Andersonville.

Sorry to read that Charley.

The US hasn't been a positive moral force in the world for decades

I tried to think of a credible counter argument for this, but couldn't.

I almost started working it up, but I will just leave it as a note:

"Notes for possible comment

Connect Bill Arkin vs soldiers + Wilfred Owen's preface + Prussian Military/Political Philosophy"

Bob McManus, don't be too proud of the fact that Katingal is no more. Watch The Australian Broadcasting Corp's 2005 4 Corners program about the new "high risk management unit (HRMU)" - known to the prisoners as "Harm You" - at Goulburn Prison in New South Wales. It's modelled on US supermax facilities, and involves between 16 and 22 hours per 24 of solitary confinement in clinical cells with no daylight and no communication with others. The director of the unit explains patiently to reporter Chris Masters that the purpose is not to punish prisoners or play mind games: "It's about control - controlling their behaviour. And it does that very well".

And the prison's clinical director blandly assures us that there's no evidence of psychological harm from imprisoning people for years in these conditions:

" I think you'll find a lot of opinion and speculation about that issue. But in terms of evidence that long-term incarceration or incarceration in more restricted conditions contributes to poorer mental health, I don't think there's a great deal of evidence to support that. Um... Where there have been studies done even on, say, 60-day segregation orders or something like that, there has been no deterioration in the mental health status of inmates on those kind of orders. Longer term I think the jury's still out."

For the on-line addition of this 45 minute TV program see http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/special_eds/20051107/default_full.htm
especially chapters 5 and 6.

Mind you, at least the inmates of Goulburn supermax have been tried and found guilty of very serious offences. Unliked the inmates of GITMO.

Well, maybe there's a correlation between the treatment that prisoners receive in Gitmo, in maximum security prisons in the U.S. and all over the "civilized" world at this time, and the breakdown of any humanist tradition in mental health care (which presupposes the ability to reach humane, structured, coherent diagnoses of psychiatric conditions). At this time France's mental health care, which twenty years ago was based on humanistic values, has been totally taken over by administrators more concerned about "quality control" and paperwork than actually working with the mentally ill themselves. Since psychiatry is rather in a shambles these days, it's a lot easier to find people who will allow schizophrenics to defend themselves in court, or who will affirm that solitary has no long term effects on the human mind.

CharleyCarp: We already have both for our other client, who's case is before a different judge.

You already have the requested orders, or just have filed the motion? The former would make the Walton setback a tiny bit easier to take, since they'd represent something in the way of precedents...

Or not. Boy, am I not a lawyer.

OT-but-related shout-out to Katherine (hilzoy or others with K's email address, please pass along):

Today on Democracy Now, Frederick Hitz, the former CIA counsel and current prof at UVa law school, said he was trying to organize an event at UVa like one held recently in Ottawa by the Canada Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center, featuring Justice Dennis O'Connor. The symposium/conference/whatever examined the Arar case and the O'Connor report.

Hitz praised the report glowingly and said he was afraid that the Congress, under the blizzard of other issues, was letting the Arar case in particular and the issue of rendition to torture in general slip away.

He specifically brought up the difference between the two governments' (US and Canada) assessment of Arar's relationship to Al Qaeda or terror of any kind, and mentioned the U.S. failure to cooperate with or participate in the O'Connor investigation.

It seems to me Hitz would benefit from hearing from you directly about the point you've raised tirelessly, that the "evidence" on which the U.S. bases its assessment of Arar was quite possibly itself statements obtained through Syrian torture of two other Arab-Canadians.

Hitz could also facilitate your attendance and/or participation in the Charlottesville event, if it comes to pass, and you may have some contacts who could help him see that it does.

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