Beyond Homan Square: US History Is Steeped in Torture
By Adam Hudson, Truthout | News Analysis
Throughout its history, the United States has tortured people and still does, in various forms.
The fatal shooting of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of White police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, not only sparked a nationwide social movement challenging police brutality, but it also amplified media scrutiny of the US legal system. One example is the recent Guardian investigation of a detention facility in Chicago's Homan Square, where police take people for harsh, off-the-book interrogations without reading them their rights and denying access to attorneys. The facility is deemed "the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site" since suspects are effectively "disappeared." While this is the first time Homan Square has been discussed in the mainstream press, it hardly represents anything new or unique in Chicago, or in the United States as a whole. If anything, Homan Square reflects a norm rather than a deviation from US legal and national security policy.
Veteran Chicago activist Mariame Kaba, founder and director of Project NIA, an organization dedicated to ending youth incarceration, points out that Homan Square has long been known about but underreported in Chicago.
"I appreciate the investigative reporting by the Guardian about the Homan Square facility in the past few weeks. I want to make that clear at the outset," Kaba told Truthout in an email. "It is also important to point out that there have been allegations about Homan and other Chicago police facilities illegally detaining and torturing people for many years. In this respect, some of the local media who have characterized Homan as standard CPD practice are not wrong. People's rights in this city have been and continue to be violated on a daily basis. It has led to apathy when it should lead to an uprising."
Lawyers and relatives say "there is no way" of finding out where arrestees are.
The Guardian's report on Homan Square is quite staggering. Special police units, such as anti-gang and anti-drug forces, take witnesses or arrestees to a warehouse in Homan Square for secretive interrogations. According to The Guardian, "Witnesses, suspects or other Chicagoans who end up inside do not appear to have a public, searchable record entered into a database indicating where they are, as happens when someone is booked at a precinct." Lawyers and relatives say "there is no way" of finding out where arrestees are. "Those lawyers who have attempted to gain access to Homan Square are most often turned away, even as their clients remain in custody inside," The Guardian reports. Police abuses in Homan Square include "keeping arrestees out of official booking databases"; "beating by police, resulting in head wounds"; "shackling for prolonged periods"; "denying attorneys access to the 'secure' facility"; and "holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15." The victims of these harsh police interrogations are usually poor Black and Brown Chicagoans.
However, it would be wrong to read this story and come away thinking that it's a departure from typical US jurisprudence, in the same way it would be wrong to view torture as just a post-9/11 feature of US "national security" policy. Nor is it right to view Homan Square as something unique to Chicago. But what is not unique are the abuses and torture that occur. Throughout its history, the United States has tortured people and still does, in various forms.
Torture in US History
European slaveholders inflicted massive violence on Black African slaves in order to preserve the economic system of slavery. Slavery built modern capitalism and enriched a vast network of slaveholders, stock traders, banks and corporations. Slaveholders' number one fear was slave rebellion since that would disrupt or collapse the system. Thus, terrorizing slaves through torture and other means of violence was a way to control them, prevent insurrection and uphold the slave-built economic system.
Rather than solely crime-fighting, a key purpose of US policing has been social control of "dangerous classes."
Torture was inflicted on slaves in order to ensure economic productivity and docility to their masters. Slaves were required to meet production quotas; torture was deployed as a form of punishment for failing to meet those quotas. Slaveholders used multiple tools to torture, particularly whipping. Whipping, for "many southwestern whites ... was a gateway form of violence that led to bizarrely creative levels of sadism," according to Edward Baptist in his book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. Other torture tools were "carpenters' tools, chains, cotton presses, hackles, handsaws, hoe handles, iron or branding livestock, nails, pokers, smoothing irons, singletrees, steelyards, tongs." In fact, Baptist writes, "Every modern method of torture was used at one time or another: sexual humiliation, mutilation, electric shocks, solitary confinement in 'stress positions,' burning, even waterboarding."
In addition, armed slave patrols monitored, stopped and searched, arrested and terrorized runaway, enslaved and even free Black Africans. Slave patrols' main job was to punish runaway slaves and return them to their masters. Free Africans were not immune, either. According to Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, a professor at CUNY John Jay College, "Free Africans were susceptible to capture by bounty hunters who could sell them into slavery. The word of a free black man in a Southern court meant nothing under the law." In fact, the slave patrols' method of stopping and searching free and enslaved Blacks can be considered a predecessor to modern-day stop-and-frisk. Those slave patrols helped lay the foundation for modern US policing. Once slavery ended so did slave patrols, but Southern Whites' fears of Blacks did not dissipate. As a result, police squads and vigilante groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, formed and they revived slave patrols' practices.
Moreover, rather than solely crime-fighting, a key purpose of US policing has been social control of "dangerous classes,"
NEO-LIBERALISM: Austerity vs. The Affluent Society.
By David William Pear
The neoliberals' world is one of poverty, a marginalized middle-class, and wealth and political power concentrated at the top. They say that neoliberalism leads to freedom. Instead it leads to austerity and the rise of fascism. Their first experiment in Chile resulted in crimes against humanity. The neoliberal project in the US has led to financial disaster, loss of freedom and the Great Recession.
Why is Anyone Listening to Neoliberals in the 21st Century?
Close your eyes and imagine an affluent society with subsonic trains crisscrossing the continent. One that produces unlimited clean energy. Provides basic healthcare for everyone. Values education for its own sake. Cultivates the arts and research to discover beauty and the unknown. An affluent society that responds with compassion to natural disaster. Conserves natural resources and protects the environment. And enjoys more leisure time. Cares about eliminating poverty and illiteracy. That ends racism and prejudice.
Does the affluent society seem like a dream? Is it an impossible goal? The neoliberals think it is. They imagine a world of austerity and a new Gilded Age.
The neoliberals are prisoners of the 18th century. They have not advanced since the neo-feudal teachings of Adam Smith (1723-1790). Smith is the godfather of economics and wrote the 'bible' on capitalism, An Inquire into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations . Smith was among the first to give much thought about economics.
In 18th-century Great Britain half the population lived in poverty. They survived, if they did, with disease, famine, illiteracy, lack of sanitation and in slums. It was normal then. Things had always been that way. They thought the poor, staving and ignorant mass of people would always be among them. They thought their society was according to the law of nature
Smith was a charitable man. He fretted about poverty, and gave a great deal of thought about wages. With a large pool of the unemployed, the new industrial class only had to pay subsistence wages.
Smith tried to tell the industrialists that people were like cattle. He said if one gave their cows more grass, then they would produce more milk. The industrialists said that if they gave their workers higher wages, then it would come out of profits, and the workers would just produce more children with mouths to feed, leading to greater starvation. The neoliberals still think this way.
Every progressive social project the neoliberals call socialism, as if that is an obscene word. The only government projects they like are those that benefit the private sector, corporations and the wealthy.
Almost every modern democracy has done better than the U.S. at providing good government for its people. All the evidence proves it. The U.S. consistently ranks far below more progressive countries on the United Nations Human Development Index that measures health, education and equality of income.
On the Social Progress Index, which measures "Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellness, and Opportunity" (see interactive map); the U.S. is ranked 16th, and well behind other developed democratic nations. Those countries doing better have not degenerated into totalitarianism, as the neoliberals predict.
The neoliberals see Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin behind every government social program. In the 1940's the neoliberal's idol, Friedrich von Hayek (1899-1992) wrote a thesis called The Road to Serfdom. It is a simple book in its 18th-century theories about government and freedom. There is a comic book version, courtesy of General Motors. Hayek won the Nobel Prize for it.
John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) and Hayek were colleagues at the London School of Economics. They had a long-running debate for years over the role of government. Keynes realized that government was important, that it has an active role in the economy. He said that the government could do "good" and manage the economy well. Hayek said it was the road to serfdom.
Keynes was an economic advisor for the British government during World War One. He also advised the British during the Treaty of Versailles to negotiate Germany's surrender.
Keynes resigned from his position at Versailles in disgust, saying that the harsh austerity the Allies were demanding of Germany and Austria would cause massive poverty and starvation. He said that it was inhumane, and would result in the rise of fascism and war. He proved to be right. He was not awarded the Nobel Prize.
In the 21st century the European Union is imposing harsh austerity on its weaker members. The neoliberals are dismantling their progressive social programs. We are seeing the rise of fascism again too. So which is more likely to cause fascism and war: Austerity for the people, or progressive government social programs? Hayek said he did not mind a dictatorship, as long as it is neoliberal. The neoliberals like right-wing dictators.
During the Great Depression (1929-1939), President Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned to Keynes for advice about the Great Depression. Keynes wrote a letter to Roosevelt advising him on the need for government social programs to stimulate the economy.
Keynes further warned FDR that lowering interest rates and increasing the money supply alone would only bailout speculators, but would not sustain economic recovery. Obama took the neoliberal's advice in the Great Recession and bailed out the speculators. Keynes would have predicted that the result would be anemic economic recovery. He would have been right.
Keynes gave worthy advice that would do the American people well in the 21st-century. The neoliberals keep sabotaging good
is Our Society's Trademark -From the Justice System to Healthcare
By Donna Smith
Over the past several weeks, we've seen so many examples of brutality played out in our cities -- and mostly our most impoverished areas -- that it isn't difficult to see why so many people are in the streets. Many say white people cannot truly understand the deep racial issues that target African American people and their communities, and that is no doubt true. But that sort of thinking also keeps groups of people apart who might otherwise band together to exert powerful forces on the corruption that manifests itself in so many places in our society.
Since I advocate for transformation of our health care system, I see brutality -- economic and physical -- exerted on patients all the time. Yet patients often do not speak up or gather enough support to wage even a small protest. We've so ingrained the notion of personal financial responsibility in our market-based system, that patients and their families and friends often struggle alone to remedy their current health-related financial crisis rather than risk care denials, more illness and perhaps even death. Black skin or white, our health care system knows no divide aside from the ability to pay, and those who cannot demonstrate sufficient ability to pay are weeded out.
Just recently, I was hospitalized twice in a short period of time. I have insurance, but I do have co-pays and deductibles that must be considered before deciding to seek care. The first hospitalization was due to a life-threatening GI bleed. Just 36 hours after discharge from six days in the hospital, I was rushed back in with a life-threatening bloodstream MRSA infection. In both instances, while in the emergency room in desperate shape, hospital business office staff made their way into my patient care area with their rolling computers and asked me how I wanted to pay my $250 ER co-pay. It was a different sort of brutality, but it was brutal to be sure.
Imagine my upset over having been brutally infected with MRSA during the earlier hospital stay and now being asked to pony up money I didn't have to pay a co-pay for another hospital visit I never should have needed. Surgeons removed one of my MRSA-infected veins from wrist to shoulder, my lungs filled with septic embolisms, and I was critically ill for another nine days in the hospital followed by my lengthy recuperation at home with nursing care. My income stopped instantly. My bills did not. That's brutality.
In our society we've become almost silent participants in much of the systemic brutality that plays out like what patients face in our health care system. Speaking up against economic and other injustices often means your access to care or other needed services will be cut off. You'll be labeled a trouble-maker. In terms of accessing health care for someone you love, ever try challenging a health care provider about their profit-driven motivations? I have. My husband has. And we've been dismissed as patients as the result. That's brutality. You are either forced to go along with the rules the powerful, monied (and often white) interests have set up to their own benefit, or you risk being thrown out all together.
In our health care system you often see black patients being cared for alongside white patients in more racially diverse numbers than other places in our society, and the reasons are pretty simple. Our health care system is color blind to everything except green -- money and the ability to pay with either public or private health benefits, cash or credit card. If you can pay or if someone will pay on your behalf, there is likely a provider who will care for you. If you are broke or lack coverage -- no matter what color your skin -- you will have trouble getting care. My support for an improved, expanded Medicare for all for life system stems from the belief that health care is a human right and that no one should go without care when it is necessary.
I believe economic inequality is what drives despair that crosses all racial and cultural divides and also keeps people shuttered in their homes until the most appalling events turn quiet desperation to active rage. Yet in so many areas of our society we've come to accept that economic disparity is an acceptable method of segregation. We see it as the individual's fault if he or she has not worked his or her way out of difficult economic conditions. Black, brown or white, if you haven't worked hard enough to lift yourself out, you deserve to struggle for life's basic necessities. Health care, housing, food, water, transportation, education, and a safe, decent community are yours if you are economically sound. If not, you will likely live in a less desirable community and have less access to opportunities that others have. That is brutality.
I'll be writing more about my MRSA journey later as some of the cost-saving measures that were taken by my health care providers certainly need illumination as part of a health care system driven by profits. For now I hope we can find more and more ways to band together with other people who struggle with economic inequality and have grown tired of the wealthy telling us how we feel and how they have the answers for our redemption. A lack of money is not necessarily a lack of intelligence. And if we are to make our society less brutal for future generations, we must be willing to call out brutal conditions on the streets of Baltimore and in the ER treatment rooms of Denver and wherever else we find it.
Donna Smith appeared in Michael Moore's 2007 film, "SiCKO," and spent five years working for National Nurses United/California Nurses Association in Chicago and Washington, D.C., as their single-payer political organizer/educator. She is now the executive director of Health Care for All Colorado and lives in Denver with her husband of 38 years, Larry
along with suppressing labor protests. Those "dangerous classes" were usually Black people, Native Americans, the poor, homeless and immigrants - people seen as inherently prone to violent, immoral and disorderly behavior. As Victor E. Kappeler, associate dean and foundation professor of Eastern Kentucky University's School of Justice Studies, wrote, "New England settlers appointed Indian Constables to police Native Americans" and "St. Louis police were founded to protect residents from Native Americans in that frontier city." To this day, those communities remain heavily policed and criminalized.
US-perpetrated torture is not a post-9/11 phenomenon.
Slavery is not the only explicit setting for torture in US history. Torture was - and remains - an instrument for furthering US imperialism. It is also crucial to note that slavery and imperialism are different forms of systemic violence with distinct roots and consequences for targeted groups of people. The roots and consequences of slavery are different for Black people than, say, the roots and consequences of Western imperialism are for peoples in Asia and Latin America. However, slavery and imperialism mutually support one another since the US empire benefited greatly from the economic foundation built by slavery.
When the United States occupied the Philippines after the 1898 Spanish-American War, US soldiers tortured - including the use of waterboarding - Filipinos in their captivity. As part of its Phoenix program, the United States, with its partner in South Vietnam, tortured and assassinated suspected Vietcong members or civilians who allegedly had information on them during the Vietnam War. US-backed death squads and right-wing militias in Latin America routinely tortured and assassinated dissidents as part of the US effort to defeat "communism" in the region.
Thus, US-perpetrated torture is not a post-9/11 phenomenon, as it has often been framed. The danger of that framing is that it is not only an erasure of history, but it also gives the false impression that post-9/11 torture during the war on terror constituted a unique moment in US history - an aberration that is now firmly in the past, and not consistently reproduced in the present. As Carla Ferstman, director of REDRESS, a London-based human rights organization, told Truthout, "I think focusing only on counterterrorism after September 11 gives a false picture that the US went astray and is now fixed. And I would assume that the government would be very happy with that narrative because it can clearly say that it's moved on."
Committee Against Torture
In November 2014, the United Nations Committee Against Torture released a report criticizing the US government's torture practices and other affronts to the Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is party. Among those practices were the torture of detainees in CIA "black sites" and lack of accountability for torturers, lack of accountability for torture committed by the US military, and numerous abuses in the US legal system, including solitary confinement and police violence against youth of color.
The report also condemned the continued indefinite detention of people imprisoned at Guantánamo without charge or trial. The United States' position is that the indefinite detainees (around three dozen out of 122 total currently detained) are "enemy belligerents" who will be held "until the end of hostilities" against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and "associated forces" - as in until the end of the war on terror, which has no defined end. This effectively makes them prisoners of war in an endless war. Criticizing that position, the Committee "reiterates that indefinite detention constitutes per se a violation of the Convention." Indefinite detention also violates international human rights law, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention.
The Committee was also alarmed at the treatment of Mexican and Central American immigrants who attempt to cross the US-Mexico border and upon arrest are warehoused in US immigration detention facilities. Specifically, it expressed its concern that the United States "continues to use, under certain circumstances, a system of mandatory detention to automatically hold asylum seekers and other immigrants on arrival in prison-like detention facilities, county jails and private prisons. It is also concerned at the recent expansion of family detention with the plan to establish up to 6,350 additional detention beds for undocumented migrant families with children."
Corroborating this concern is an October 2014 report by the Guatemala Acupuncture and Medical Aid Project about the human rights violations of immigrants held in US Department of Homeland Security detention facilities in southern Arizona. The report is based on interviews with 33 adult migrants held in short-term detention from late May to late July 2014.
Based on FBI data, a White police officer kills a Black person almost twice a week.
It found numerous human rights violations in immigration detention facilities. Migrant
advice from past sages. Their sabotage is well-funded by corporations, foundations, foreign governments and the wealthy.
John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) was a genius with 21st century ideas. Galbraith served as an economic advisor to both FDR and John F. Kennedy. His most famous book is The Affluent Society (1958). It was a popular book during the 1960's.
During the Stagflation of the 1970's the neoliberals allied with the religious-right and racists to purge Keynes's and Galbraith's teachings. In the 1980's the Reagan-Thatcher revolution established neoliberals, corporate hegemony and right-wing extremists in the halls of power.
The first experiment of the neoliberals was in Chile during the 1970's. It lead to the rise of Pinochet, fascism and crimes against humanity. Hayek said in a 1978 letter to the 'Times of London' that he personally approved of Pinochet, preferring a dictator to a democratic government without neoliberalism.
Hayek made one excuse after another for Pinochet. He was not even faithful to him own principles, and said that Pinochet's firing squads would transition to democracy. Those on the wrong end of Pinochet's firing squads would not live to see that miracle. The neoliberals never take responsibility, admit they are wrong, or say they are sorry. (HERE).
Galbraith's discarded ideas had some excellent questions and answers to ponder in the 21st-century. What is our obsession with economic growth and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), when an affluent society already produces all the private goods and services needed, Galbraith asked? And, shouldn't we be more concerned about what is produced instead of how much? He said that there is a "problem with social balance "private affluence and public squalor" as well as related environmental, aesthetic, and cultural concerns". He was a man for the 21st century.
Neoliberals are not against fascist and corporate planning of the economy. Fascists use the firing squad as their economic planning tool. Corporations use monopoly power, public relations departments and political graft. Corporations are hierarchical organizations that meet in secret to decide what to produce, and the price people will pay. They spend billions of dollars on advertising to change consumer preferences, and move their products off the shelves. Their propaganda has created a privatized culture of consumerism, materialism and gluttony.
The corporations are dictating government programs too. Their oligarchies have taken over governments globally at all levels. They plan the government and the economy for their own profit and greed. Corporate oligarchies and neoliberals attack every social program for the public. They impose austerity on the public sector and the people. The impoverished public sector is in dire need of investment.
Education could use a tsunami of new investment. The lack of investment for education, especially in poor neighborhoods, is glaring. The neoliberals blame "bad teachers". They want to privatize public schools and hire teachers that will work for the minimum wage, so their hedge funds can make billions of dollars that should be going to education.
Higher education is failing too. Students are condemned to indentured servitude to payoff student loans. Young people have been indoctrinated that the value of education is to learn how to work for corporations and the military.
College graduates discover that there are no jobs for their qualifications. Neoliberals stuck in the 18th-century say that the answer is that not everybody needs an education to be a widget or carry a gun. They want students to enroll in on-line schools pushed by their hedge funds. Their kids go to Harvard, Yale and MIT.
An affluent society needs educated people. There is a cadre of potential teachers, healthcare workers, nutritionists, scientists, sociologists, historians, artists, engineers and administrators now working at meaningless minimum wage jobs. There is an abundance of opportunity in an affluent society.
New community centers could staff professionals to enrich the lives of seniors, teens and children. With people living longer, retired seniors could improve their lives and social activity by taking courses and enjoying the arts. Teens could have tutoring, learn to play chess, take music lessons, cooking classes, creative writing, languages, and have supervised sports. The possibilities for public investments and to improve the quality of life, and provide meaningful jobs are endless. Neoliberals want everybody to sit alone at home and watch TV.
Malnourished and neglected children are unacceptable in an affluent society. The problem is not a lack of resources. It is because of gross inequality. There is a shameful lack of prenatal care. As a result, infant mortality in the U.S. is higher than every developed nation. It is 30% higher than even Cuba, which the neoliberals constantly chastise about its human rights record.
New parents could get healthcare, infant care and education in an affluent society. Instead, 18th century neoliberals want to kill Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid; and they want to privatize the Veterans Administration. Their greed is insatiable.
Obama promised single-payer healthcare. The public got excited and wanted it. The 18th-century neoliberals killed it in the womb. Long-term health care and homecare goes uncovered by any public insurance. Neoliberals let the old and disabled go without and die, as if those people are just useless eaters. Instead an affluent society would treat the old and disabled humanely; and single-payer healthcare would create more careers and professional jobs.
Twice a day every workday the highways are in gridlock with automobiles idling, burning fossil fuel and polluting the air. Clean, fast and comfortable light-rail and motor coaches would be quicker, more comfortable and use less energy. Building and operating a 21st-century mass transportation industry would make commuting time productive and leisurely; and create more skilled jobs.
An affluent society should not neglect the unemployed. The public sector has the responsibility of full-employment and providing for those unemployed. Employees did not volunteer to be the risk-takers of capitalism. They should not be condemned to their fate because they were unlucky and chose the wrong industry or employer, years ago. Society must face the reality that some people are permanently unable to work because of social, emotional and health reasons. The unemployed need treatment, counseling, education and care; which would also create more jobs.
These are just a few ideas, some from Galbraith's The Affluent Society. As Galbraith said in 1958, the private sector is a king; the public sector is a pauper. They can both be royalty.
The neoliberals and their alter ego the neocons do not have any good ideas for the 21st century. They have caused financial disasters and endless wars, and they tell us not to expect better.
A public sector that is not a pauper, but should be is the military. The military-industrial complex is wasting vast resources making machines of death. Society is spending trillions of dollars to send armies to invade other countries. We spend trillion of dollars in order to protect us from imaginary enemies, and those that our wars have created. It does not make us any safer. The jobs that it creates do not add any value.
The 18th-century neoliberals and their alter-egos the neoconservatives say that government economic planning will destroy our freedom, while they plan the economy for war and financial speculation. The neocons say the American people must give up the Bill of Rights in exchange for safety. The neoliberals say that austerity will bring prosperity. Instead we are less free and more poor. They are leading us down the road to fascism and serfdom.
Let's open our eyes and stop listening to the neoliberals.
Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics: by Daniel Stedman Jones.
Keynes, Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics by Nicholas Wapshott.
The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbrai
David William Pear is an amateur columnist. After retiring in 2009 from investment management, David started writing as an amateur and is a regular columnist for The Real News Network and Op Ed News. His articles have appeared in Tampa Epoch Newspaper, RINF Alternative News, USA 24, Russia Insider, Nigerian Herald, Smart Mark Radio, Reader Supported News and Topix.com. David retired as an investment management analyst for a global financial services company. He has over 40 years of investment experience and was a Senior Vice President of Investments for Private Wealth Management. David is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). He has a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from the University of Maryland and attended classes at George Washington University to receive his CFP. He also attended courses at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for his certification as an investment management analyst (CIMA). Since retiring, David earned a certification as an Emergency Medical Technician and has devoted much of his time to non-governmental and governmental functions in the fields of public health, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and emergency medicine. He is active in social issues relating to peace, race relations, homelessness, equal justice and is a member of Veterans for Peace. David frequently makes extended trips to Russia as a private citizen and was an EMT in Kuwait in 2010. In February of 2015 he was part of a people-to-people delegation to Cuba with Code Pink. His hobbies include boating, fishing and motorcycle touring. He is also a licensed skydiver (USPA). David is a Vietnam veteran having served as a member of the 5th Special Forces Group as a combat advisor to the Army of the Republic of Viet Nam. David resides with his wife and three cats in Clearwater Beach, Florida.
The Committee also condemned the use of solitary confinement in US prisons. Solitary confinement or isolation is when prisoners are held in isolated cells with no human contact for 22 to 24 hours a day. Isolation is used to punish or discipline prisoners, but it also used for "safety" and "health-related" reasons. (For example, prisoners who indicate they may harm themselves are often placed in solitary confinement.) According to watchdog groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Solitary Watch, around 80,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement in the United States, many of whom are mentally ill. Even children - juvenile prisoners - are held in solitary confinement. Time spent in solitary confinement varies but many prisoners spend multiple years in isolation, including those incarcerated at "supermax" prisons entirely made up of solitary confinement units.
Since humans are social creatures, solitary confinement can have serious physical and psychological effects on a person. Isolation can cause anxiety, depression, irritability and hostility, paranoia and psychosis, panic attacks, hypersensitivity to external stimuli, hallucinations, difficulty sleeping, violent fantasies, nightmares, dizziness, heart palpitations, self-harm and suicide, among other consequences. It is for these reasons that solitary confinement is considered a human rights violation and a form of torture by international bodies and human rights groups.
Additionally, the Committee criticized the treatment of juveniles in the criminal justice system; life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders; lack of protection of prisoners against violence, including sexual assault; prisoner deaths in US custody; the way in which the death penalty is administered - along with the fact that it is administered at all; and excessive use of force and brutality by US police officers, particularly against people of color and other marginalized communities. Every 28 hours, a Black person is killed by a member of law enforcement or a vigilante, according to a Malcolm X Grassroots Movement estimate. Based on FBI data, a White police officer kills a Black person almost twice a week.
The UN report highlighted police violence, profiling and harassment against Black and Latino youth in Chicago, following testimony by delegates from We Charge Genocide (WCG), a grassroots group in Chicago that organizes against police violence. On November 12-14, 2014, WCG sent eight young activists as delegates to Geneva, Switzerland, to present evidence of police violence in Chicago to the UN Committee Against Torture. The delegates told the Committee and US government representatives how police violence, harassment and profiling harm youth of color, particularly Black youth, in Chicago. In addition, before the November hearing, the organization released a shadow report entitled "Police Violence Against Youth of Color," which documented racist police violence in Chicago during the summer of 2014.
More Torture and Renditions Overseas
While largely under the radar, the United States still uses torture and renditions overseas, much of it outsourced to US allies. Renditions of suspected terrorists overseas have not ceased. In November 2013, Abu Anas al-Libi was snatched by US Delta Force commandos in Libya, detained and interrogated on a US warship without access to a lawyer. He was subsequently sent to the United States to stand trial for his alleged role in the 1998 bombing of a US embassy in Kenya. However, he died in January at a US hospital.
Recently, the Obama administration slightly altered the Bush administration's interpretation of the Convention Against Torture's prohibition on the United States torturing and abusing prisoners in its custody. The Bush administration said the treaty did not apply overseas. Meanwhile, the Obama administration's interpretation is that "the cruelty ban applies wherever the United States exercises governmental authority," according to The New York Times. This would apply to the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as well as US ships and aircraft in international waters and airspace. However, the definition seems to exclude overseas secret prisons run by the CIA during the Bush years and US military prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan during the wars. Those prisons were on the sovereign territory of other countries, while the Cuban government has no control over Guantánamo.
However, the Obama administration does not argue that torture is allowed overseas because it's already prohibited by domestic laws, such as the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and the Geneva Conventions. It just doesn't want to change the treaty's "jurisdictional scope" as that, according to Charlie Savage of The New York Times, "could have unintended consequences, like increasing the risk of lawsuits by overseas detainees or making it harder to say that unrelated treaties with similar jurisdictional language did not apply in the same places." This interpretation provides fewer constraints on US counterterrorism operations overseas.
While US military personnel are technically barred from torturing people, its partners are not.
On the other hand, while US military personnel and intelligence agents are, technically, barred from torturing people, its partners are not. In November 2013, reporter Matthieu Aikins wrote a long, investigative piece in Rolling Stone about 10 Afghans who were kidnapped and tortured by US special operations forces, with Afghan interpreters at their side, in the fall of 2012. Soon after his report was released, Aikins posted a video of Afghan military personnel and interpreters interrogating and torturing a prisoner as US commandos watched. As shocking as the video appears, it captures a common practice. According to Aikins, "As one military intelligence soldier told me in Kandahar in 2011, they would often take a 'smoke break' when interrogating recalcitrant detainees, stepping outside and leaving the prisoner alone with Afghan police or soldiers." The United States spends billions of dollars training and funding Afghan security forces - and torture is routine in Afghan prisons.
Detention facilities have been transferred to Afghan control. But Aikins points out that "American military units are allowed to hold detainees for 'tactical questioning' for up to two weeks." This can often lead to US commandos abusing detainees they have little sympathy for. Moreover, while "ISAR has halted transferring detainees to some of the worst locations ... the CIA has not," according to Aikins. Moreover, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani lifted the ban on night raids, in which US special operations forces burst into civilian homes at night to kill or capture suspected militants. The practice was controversial, and banned by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2013, because they often resulted in killing and harassing innocent civilians. Now Afghan special forces get to conduct night raids with US commandos at their side as advisers. As conventional troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the US forces left over will largely be special operations forces and CIA paramilitary working alongside Afghan security forces. They will operate largely in the shadows and will likely continue these sorts of abuses - torture and assassination - in secret.
As investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill reported in The Nation, the CIA is using a secret prison in Somalia to interrogate suspected members of the militant group al-Shabab. The prison is "buried in the basement of Somalia's National Security Agency (NSA)," according to Scahill. "While the underground prison is officially run by the Somali NSA," Scahill reports, "US intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners."
The prison is dark and dungeon-like. It "consists of a long corridor lined with filthy small cells infested with bedbugs and mosquitoes." Prison cells are "windowless and air thick, moist and disgusting" and prisoners "are not allowed outside." Many prisoners "have developed rashes and scratch themselves incessantly. Some have been detained for a year or more. According to one former prisoner, inmates who had been there for long periods would pace around constantly, while others leaned against walls rocking."
Scahill reported on the prison's existence in 2011 but such operations still continue. In fact, in a rare public admission, CIA Director John Brennan confirmed what Scahill and others have been saying about US renditions. During a talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in mid-March, Brennan said, "There are places throughout the world where CIA has worked with other intelligence services and has been able to bring people into custody and engage in the debriefings of these individuals either through our liaison partners and sometimes there are joint debriefings that take place as well."
When reports of torture in CIA black sites or Chicago's Homan Square come out, it is tempting to view them as anomalies in US history - momentary aberrations perpetrated by "bad apples." But they are not. They are the norm, products of the slavery and imperialism on which the United States was built. The reason why an off-the-books torture facility at Homan Square exists is because torture is deeply embedded in this country's history and its legal and national security structures, both historically and in the present moment.
Adam Hudson is a reporting fellow at Truthout. He typically covers national security issues, Guantánamo, human rights, gentrification and policing. For fun, he likes to play drums in a Bay Area alternative rock band called Sunata. Follow him on Twitter @ adamhudson5.
A History of Hypocrisy ---- Human Rights Watch
DECEMBER 9, 2014
After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the US government authorized the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorism suspects in US custody. For years US officials, pointing to Department of Justice memorandums authorizing these techniques, denied that they constituted torture. But many clearly do: International bodies and US courts have repeatedly found that “waterboarding” and other forms of mock execution by asphyxiation constitute torture and are war crimes, Other authorized techniques, including stress positions, hooding during questioning, deprivation of light and auditory stimuli, and use of detainees’ individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce stress, violate the protections afforded all persons in custody – whether combatants or civilians – under the laws of armed conflict and international human rights law, and can amount to torture or "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment." Accordingly, the United Nations Committee against Torture and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture have clearly stated that these techniques are torture.
US President Barack Obama has acknowledged that the US used torture as part of the CIA’s post 9/11 interrogation program, and has said that waterboarding constitutes torture. However, many current and former US officials still argue that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were not torture. The recent release of the summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program has heightened debate around this issue.
The claims of those who argue these techniques did not constitute torture are contradicted by past US statements criticizing other countries for using those same techniques. Below are some examples of such statements, drawn from the US Department of State’s annual Human Rights Reports.
- Kenneth Roth on Bush Era Torture and CIA Denials
DECEMBER 9, 2014