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How U.S. Prison Officials Rubberstamped a CIA Torture Chamber

By Carl Takei | ACLU | January 13, 2015

The CIA’s chief interrogator called it “the closest thing he has seen to a dungeon.”

At the agency’s COBALT detention site in Afghanistan – also known as the “Salt Pit” – detainees were kept in total darkness, shackled to the floors or walls of their cells, and given buckets to dispose of their own waste. One senior interrogator later told the CIA’s inspector general that a detainee “could go for days or weeks without anyone looking at him.” Studies have concluded that such isolation has profound psychological impacts. It’s no surprise the interrogator said detainees “cowered” whenever their cell doors were opened. Even though the Salt Pit was closed in 2004, the horrors that took place there stand as examples of the CIA program’s inhumanity.

In a little-noticed section of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released in December, Senate investigators described how the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which runs the federal prison system, gave a green light to this dungeon.

In November 2002, just a few months after it opened, the CIA invited a BOP inspection team to assess the facility. During one of the multiple days of the BOP’s inspection, a CIA officer ordered that detainee Gul Rahman be partially stripped, then shackled overnight to the concrete floor of his cell. Left naked except for a sweatshirt, Rahman died of apparent hypothermia at the end of the BOP’s visit, though it is unclear whether anyone from the team actually saw him. After the inspection, the BOP team commented that they were “WOW’ed” and had “never been in a facility where individuals are so sensory deprived.”

Despite seeing the conditions that led to Rahman’s death, BOP apparently never urged the CIA to make the Salt Pit less like a medieval torture chamber. Instead, the BOP inspectors gave the prison their blessing, concluding that “the detainees were not being treated in humanely [sic]” and the “staff did not mistreat the detainee[s].” In the years that followed, more than half of the 119 victims of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program who were named in the Senate torture report spent time in the Salt Pit.

The BOP’s rubberstamping of the Salt Pit is perhaps the most shocking example of how a domestic prison agency helped foster U.S. torture abroad. But it is hardly the only one.

From solitary confinement to sexual abuse, the routine inhumanity of U.S. prisons can enable and normalize the use of torture abroad. Indeed, Charles Graner, ringleader of the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq, worked as a prison guard in Pennsylvania before joining his now-infamous Army Reserve unit. According to a 2004 Washington Post profile of Graner, the prison where he worked was rife with accusations that other guards engaged in brutal abuse: beating prisoners, spitting in their food, using racial epithets, and using one beaten prisoner’s blood to write the letters “KKK.” It was here, just south of Pittsburgh, where Graner first lost his moral compass. By the time he shipped out to Abu Ghraib, Graner was so entrenched in these daily realities that he reportedly whistled, laughed, and sang while abusing those in his custody.

Some international human rights bodies see the connection. In a recent review of U.S. compliance with the Convention Against Torture, for example, the United Nations simultaneously condemned both the U.S.’s failure to hold anyone responsible for CIA torture and the widespread use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

Today the ACLU is submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to BOP to find out more about the agency’s 2002 inspection of the Salt Pit. In the meantime, BOP officials – perhaps some of the same ones who signed off on the Salt Pit – march on with their own plans for a massive new prison that thumbs its nose at the U.N.’s Convention Against Torture report. The next federal prison to open will be ADX/USP Thomson in Northwestern, Illinois: A 1,600-cell Supermax prison devoted entirely to solitary confinement.

The resulting inhumanity will be all too predictable, even if BOP officials choose not to see it.

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Accountability for torture today is critical for stopping it tomorrow

January 14, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture, War Crimes | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Judge Rules Against Colorado Supermax That Keeps Prisoners Indoors for Years

By Jean Casella and James Ridgeway | Solitary Watch | August 30, 2012

We’ve written at length about the case of Troy Anderson, a prisoner with mental illness who has spent more than ten years in solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary. This past April, a Federal District Court in Denver heard a case brought on Anderson behalf by students at the University of Denver Law School’s Civil Rights Clinic. As we wrote, “it was his untreated mental illness that first landed him at CSP, Anderson contends, and now the same symptoms are keeping him there indefinitely. Without proper treatment, he is unable to convince corrections officials that he’s fit for the general prison population. This catch-22, his lawyers say, condemns him to an effective life sentence under conditions that are increasingly being denounced as a form of torture—particularly when applied to mentally ill prisoners.” The suit claimed that Anderson’s treatment violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and its guarantee of due process. Among other things, his lawyers pointed out that it has been more than a decade since Anderson had “felt the sun on his back.”

Westword‘s Alan Prendergast, who has also followed the case closely, reported earlier this week on the judge’s ruling in the case:

In what amounts to a landmark decision, a federal judge has ruled that the conditions of solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary constitute “a paradigm of inhumane treatment” and must change — notably, so that inmates locked down in their cells 23 hours a day can have at least three hours a week of natural light, fresh air and outdoor exercise. “The Eighth Amendment does not mandate comfortable prisons, but it does forbid inhumane conditions,” U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson wrote in an order issued last Friday.

CSP has an interior courtyard that could be modified to permit outdoor exercise for inmates, Jackson notes. But since it opened in 1993, the state supermax has permitted its high-security inmates only to exercise in an odd-shaped room on each tier equipped with a chin-up bar; small holes allow some fresh air from outside to reach the room. Calling CSP “out of step with the rest of the nation” — even the notorious federal supermax in Florence allows its inmates outdoor recreation in individual cages — Jackson declared that prison officials must provide its charges with “meaningful exposure” to natural light and air.

Jackson’s ruling came in the case of Troy Anderson, 42, a mentally ill inmate serving an 83-year sentence stemming from two shootouts with police. He’s one of ten inmates who have been at CSP for ten years or more with hardly any exposure to the outdoors (except during transport to court) during that time. His lawsuit, filed with the aid of student lawyers from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, challenged several aspects of life at CSP, from mental health treatment to the policies that have kept him from progressing to a less restrictive prison, as unconstitutional…

On other issues, the judge ordered a fresh look at Anderson’s medication issues and mental health treatment. He adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward new policies that are supposed to address other inmate concerns about how inmates receive bad behavior reports, known as “negative chrons,” that can prolong their stay in solitary confinement without a clear appeal process.

At Anderson’s trial, other inmates testified about suicidal thoughts brought on by the severe isolation and being deprived of any exposure to the outdoors. “I go to bed crying sometimes because I feel I have no hope of being outside of that cell any more,” one said.

A copy of the judge’s order can be found here: Troy Anderson v. Colorado DOC

August 31, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , , , | Comments Off on Judge Rules Against Colorado Supermax That Keeps Prisoners Indoors for Years