President Biden Must Find The Political Will To Close Guantanamo Bay

It is, to be blunt, beyond dispiriting to have to be calling for the closure of the tired and discredited “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay 20 years — 7,306 days — since it first opened.

The prison, as I have long explained, is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, and every day that it remains open ought to be a source of shame to anyone with any respect for the law — or, for that matter, with any common decency.

In countries that respect the rule of law, the only way to be stripped of your liberty is as a criminal suspect or as a prisoner of war protected by the Geneva Conventions. At Guantánamo, the Bush administration threw away the rulebook, holding men without any rights whatsoever as “enemy combatants”, who could be held indefinitely, with no requirement that they ever face charges, and with no legal mechanism in place to ever ensure their release.

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Guantanamo Bay: ‘Ugly Chapter Of Unrelenting Human Rights Violations’

Geneva – On the 20th anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, UN experts* condemned the facility as a site of “unparalleled notoriety” and said its continued operation was a stain on the US Government’s commitment to the rule of law.

“Twenty years of practising arbitrary detention without trial accompanied by torture or ill treatment is simply unacceptable for any government, particularly a government which has a stated claim to protecting human rights,” said the independent experts, appointed by the Human Rights Council.

“As a newly elected Member of the Human Rights Council, the experts again call on the United States to close this facility and close this ugly chapter of unrelenting human rights violations.”

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New Data: Changes In Incarceration System ‘Inadequate, Uneven And Unsustained’ During COVID

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has released a lot of new data over the past few weeks that help us finally see — both nationally and state-by-state — how policy choices made in the first year of the pandemic impacted correctional populations. Unsurprisingly, the numbers document the tragedy of thousands of lives lost behind bars, and evidence of some of the policy decisions that contributed to the death toll. Drilling down, we also see a (very) few reasons to be hopeful and, for those of us paying close attention, a few notable improvements in what the BJS is able to collect and how they report it. Above all, we see how quickly things can change — for better or for worse — when under pressure, and discuss some of the issues and policy choices these data tell us to watch out for.

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Why US Prisons Don’t Want Prisoners To Read

In a recent piece for Protean magazine entitled “The American Prison System’s War on Reading,” Alex Skopic writes, “Across the United States, the agencies responsible for mass imprisonment are trying to severely limit incarcerated people’s access to the written word—an alarming trend, and one that bears closer examination.” From outright banning books and letting prison libraries fall into decay to the intrusion of for-profit electronic reading services that inmates have to pay for, the assault on prisoners’ ability to read books while incarcerated is one of many calculated cruelties that make the US carceral system so inhumane.

In this episode of Rattling the Bars, TRNN Executive Producer Eddie Conway speaks with Skopic about the American prison system’s war on reading and its deep (and racist) historical roots.

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Steven Donziger’s First Letter From Prison

I am finally able to write directly from inside the belly of the beast: the federal prison in Danbury, CT. I am now on day 23 of my incarceration, and the experience has been nothing short of mind-blowing. I am living with another person in a 54 sq ft cell; next door is a 37-year-old man, one of the kindest people I have ever met. He was sentenced to a 35-year term for gang violence when he was 19. Three people in my unit of 80 or so men are lifers and have over 30 years in the system.

The length of the sentences for various crimes is astounding. We are unique as a country for the extraordinarily punitive nature of our criminal justice system. And it sickens me to see it from the inside. All of us here are simply raw material for a business built largely on money and politics that has virtually nothing to do with rehabilitation (although there are staff here working miracles against all odds to help inmates adjust to the outside).

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The ‘Forgotten Fight’ For Prison Abolition In France

When I saw that Jaccques Lesage de La Haye had a new book called The Abolition of Prison, published by the French radical press, Éditions Libertalia, I reached out through my anarchist radio networks to find contact information for him. Jacques is a longtime anarchist and abolitionist in France, who for many years hosted the anti-prison radio show Ras les murs. His book promised to be a culmination of all of his experience writing and struggling against prisons and working to support people both inside and outside.

As a translator and an anarchist, I am always keeping an eye out for new texts to try to bring into English in order to connect movements around the world and especially to help connect the abolitionist struggles across national divides.

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COVID-19 Prevention No Match For Crowded, Poorly Ventilated Housing

In the months since COVID-19 wreaked havoc inside California’s 35 prisons and claimed 240 incarcerated lives, practically nothing has been done to address the crowded and poorly ventilated housing units that have helped the virus spread.

At San Quentin State Prison, COVID-19 infected three-quarters of its incarcerated residents and dozens required hospitalization. It killed 28 prisoners and a correctional sergeant, prompting a court to call the incident the “worst epidemiological disaster in California correctional history” last October.

A near full-scale shutdown from March 2020 to May 2021 didn’t thwart the virus’ disastrous effect on San Quentin residents. The deaths took place while prisoners spent more than 23-hours-a-day locked inside their cells with two people assigned to each one.

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Chris Hedges: The Call

On September 5, 2013, I pulled my old Volvo wagon—a bumper sticker reading “This is the Rebel Base” stuck on the back by my wife, a Star Wars fan—into the parking lot at East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey. I had taught college-level courses in New Jersey prisons for the past three years. But neither my new students nor I had any idea that night that we were embarking on a journey that would shatter their protective emotional walls, or that years later our lives would be deeply intertwined.

I put my wallet and phone in the glove compartment, emptied my pockets of coins, and dumped them in the console between the front seats. I made sure I had my driver’s license. I gathered up my books, plays by August Wilson, James Baldwin, John Herbert, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Miguel Piñero, Amiri Baraka, and a copy of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

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Drone Whistleblower Thrown In Pen With Terrorists

Drone whistleblower Daniel Hale was sent on Sunday to the notorious Communications Management Unit (CMU) at the maximum-security U.S. Penitentiary (USP) at Marion, Illinois to serve a 45-month sentence, rather than to the low-security prison at Butner, North Carolina, where federal Judge Liam O’Grady had recommended he go.

Butner is a prison hospital complex, and O’Grady was cognizant of Daniel’s need for psychological therapy to deal with post traumatic stress disorder from his time as a U.S. Air Force drone operator.

USP Marion, on the other hand, is a former “Supermax” prison that was built in the early 1960s as a replacement for Alcatraz. It was converted into a CMU to keep terrorists from being in contact with the media.

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Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee Prepares For Demonstrations

As 2021 comes to a close, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee is collaborating closely with Jailhouse Lawyers Speak as they organize collective actions inside prisons and jails from August 21 to September 9, 2022. These actions will include labor strikes, work equipment sabotage, sit-ins, boycotts and hunger strikes. The campaign, called “Shut ‘Em Down 2022,” plans to focus on locally organized actions driven by incarcerated people to meet their abilities and the demands of their specific facilities. IWOC is a committee of the Industrial Workers of the World.

“When you’re incarcerated, human rights abuses are happening left and right because the mentality is that you are there as a punishment,” says Courtney Montoya, media liaison for IWOC and Jailhouse Lawyers Speak.

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Deepening The Resistance To Police Terror

The Black is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations is holding its annual rally, March on the White House and conference on November 6 and 7, 2021. It is part of the continuous work to destroy the colonial stranglehold the U.S. has on African people. 

This is a call for you to join in this escalating struggle of the oppressed to overturn the colonial-capitalist system that thrust itself into existence 600 years ago with the 1415 Portuguese initiation of the European trade in black bodies that were colonized in Africa and dispersed throughout the world.

The colonial enslavement of our people was the bridge between European feudalism and capitalism that wreaks havoc on the happiness, lives and resources of all the peoples of the world. 

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Activists Call For End To ‘Death By Incarceration’

The activists held a press conference and rally in Philadelphia Sept. 30 to promote SB835, introduced by a bipartisan group of legislators. If passed, the state bill would offer geriatric and medical parole for anyone, aged 55 years or older, who has served 25 years or half their sentence, whichever comes first.

The bill would offer incarcerated people with a chronic medical condition — either a physical or mental illness — a chance at parole. Currently, an incarcerated person in Pennsylvania needs to petition their sentencing judge to qualify for compassionate release. And they need a doctor to confirm they have less than a year to live, and in most cases be unable to walk.

In Pennsylvania, the more than 10,000 incarcerated people over 55 are considered geriatric, because their life spans are shortened by oppressive prison conditions, including poor nutrition and health care, severe stress and the risk of violence.

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US Government’s Lies About Prison Uprising Fueled Lingering Mistrust

The rebellion began 50 years ago on Sept. 9, 1971, when prisoners took over the maximum-security Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York after years of complaints about the conditions in the prison went unacknowledged. Aside from the inhumane conditions, prisoners alleged that they were subjected to treatment based on race and religion.

Fed up with overcrowded prison cells with temperatures that soared during warmer months and froze during wintertime, among other gripes about a basic lack of humane treatment, the disproportionately Black and Hispanic prison population rebelled to take control of the correctional facility for four days. The prisoners took dozens of hostages while they negotiated with officials about their demands.

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Black August, Letter Writing And The ‘Harm Reduction’ Administration

There are four major components in the yearly commemorations of Black August: study, fast, train, and fight. People are encouraged to study the works and words of former and current political and politicized prisoners. People are encouraged to fast from sunrise to sunset. People are encouraged to train and become more physically active. People are encouraged to fight against the system. However, one of the lesser centered but equally important aspects of Black August is letter writing. 

Nearly a half-century ago, Gresham Sykes wrote in The Society of Captives: A Study of a Maximum Security Prison that, “life in the maximum-security prison is depriving or frustrating extreme”. Hardly anything has changed to alter that. The prison system thrives on the exploitation and over-policing of poor colonized communities.

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Midwest Connections: A Regional Fight For Abolition

A wave of prison abolition actions and demands have swept the United States every August since 1979 from inside the walls to outside. New groups in the Midwest such as Abolition Is a Practice and Community Not Cages (CNC) are carrying on the Black August traditions. With a proposed new county jail in Winona, Minnesota, slated to cost taxpayers at least $28 million, we heard from abolitionists opposed to the project about their efforts.

With a population of ~27,000 in southeastern Minnesota, Winona is the seat of Winona County and a town that sits on the western edge of the Mississippi River across from Wisconsin. The Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) inspected the Winona County Jail in 2018 and after finding the building wasn’t up to standards, the DOC gave the jail a closing date of September 30, 2021, unless a plan is in place for a new facility.

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