Chicago attorney and ICAT member Melinda Power sent the following letter to Illinois Senator Dick Durbin the day before a February 25 hearing called by Senator Durbin and held by the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. The title of the hearing was “Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences.”
February 23, 2014
The Honorable Senator Dick Durbin
RE: Solitary Confinement
Dear Senator Durbin:
Sometimes I try to imagine how I would function in solitary confinement. I quickly conclude that I would deteriorate rapidly, both mentally and physically. I imagine you might also. The executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Rick Raemisch’s, editorial in the N.Y. Times on 2/21/14 confirmed how devastating his twenty-four hour sojourn in solitary confinement was on his mental well-being. It further reaffirmed his opposition to the use of solitary confinement.
His editorial illuminated what I have come to believe is the effect solitary confinement has on the vast majority of people in solitary confinement. The Department of Correction’s confinement of people in small 6′ by 8′ cells for days, months and even years on end often drives people crazy. This is because when an intent is not able to control or determine when he or she is allowed out of solitary and speeds his or her day alone, there is a physical and mental health breakdown. Being forced to eat food shoved through the aptly named chuckhole; not being able to have any contact with loved ones, family or other inmates; not being allowed access to the law library or to the commissary and limited access to fresh air only further breaks down the prisoner’s mental and physical health.
How can we treat human beings this way and still proclaim we live in a humans society? Every day, states across the U.S. do this to thousands of human beings. This is not a kind of society I want to be part of.
I know this happens on a daily basis because as an attorney who has visited prisoners in Illinois and federal prisons around the U.S. for over thirty years, I have met prisoners who have suffered the effects of solitary confinement. It is sad and disheartening to see these prisoners. Often, they won’t even look at me. They certainly are not able to carry on a conversation without effort. No one should spend even 24 hours in solitary.
I believe solitary confinement is torture. It destroys prisoners and it dehumanizes the guards and prison administrations who enforce it.
I request that you introduce and make your your best effort to get passed legislation to end solitary confinement in the U.S.
Is it ever morally justified to risk one’s life for justice? Or to prevent someone from doing that? One year ago this month, courageous and desperate men imprisoned at Guantanamo began a hunger strike. Their action has again focused world attention on their plight and revealed the intransigence of the Obama administration on Guantanamo.
On February 27, the Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo hosts an evening to examine how the detainees have put their bodies on the line to defeat their unjust imprisonment without charges or trial, and how forced feeding is used to block their last form of protest – denying themselves nourishment.
“Hunger: Guantanamo Detainees and Their Resistance”
What: Film screening and discussion (free, donations accepted)
When: 7 pm, Thursday, Feb. 27
Where: Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn, Chicago (near Red and Blue El lines)
We will screen the award-winning film, Doctors of the Dark Side, that explores the critical role of physicians and psychologists in crafting and implementing programs of detainee torture at Guantanamo.
The film will be followed by a panel discussion of the serious legal and ethical questions posed by both hunger striking and forced feeding. The Guantanamo prisoners have said this is their last means of protest, and they would rather die than continue in conditions of extreme isolation and torture. Obama has defended forced feeding as a means to prevent death, even though it is widely regarded as torture. These issues are not confined to Guantanamo. During last summer’s hunger strike by prisoners in California to end solitary confinement, a court held that the State could force feed them. And right now, some prisoners at Menard Prison here in Illinois are engaged in a hunger strike to end their solitary confinement as well. As prisoners stand up for humane treatment, where will we stand?
Our panel will feature Dr. Frank Summers, a clincal psychologist who has played a leading role in the fight within the American Psychological Association to bar members who participate in torture. We have also invited Abu Noor Abdil Malik, Muslim chaplain at DePaul University, to shed light on the Islamic perspective on risking one’s life through a hunger strike to attain justice. Please join us for this important film and indepth discussion of these and other questions. If you are on Facebook, please ‘join’ the event and invite friends.
Members of The Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo includes Illinois Coalition Against Torture, World Can’t Wait Chicago, Witness Against Torture, White Rose Catholic Worker, and Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban Five. This event is also endorsed by Radical Public Health.
We’ve posted this petition calling for an immediate end to solitary confinement in Illinois. We further demand that Governor Quinn and Attorney General Madigan immediately act to end this practice. Locking a prisoner alone in a cell with no human contact for up to 23 hours a day, without access to commissary, phone calls or exercise constitutes torture.
Medical experts have determined that solitary confinement is extremely harmful to a prisoner’s mental health and has no rehabilitative value. 85% of prisoners are placed in solitary in Illinois as a disciplinary action for minor infractions. The State of Mississippi drastically reduced solitary confinement in 2007. This change has resulted in healthier prisoners, increased safety, and reduced costs for Mississippi.
In January 2012, the Chicago City Council adopted a resolution condemning prolonged solitary confinement in Illinois prisons as torture. Illinois has approximately 2,200 prisoners in solitary confinement whose average length of stay is 2.8 years. This is inhumane and unacceptable.
Why is this important?
Sign the Petition because it is inhumane to keep people locked up in solitary without access to other people, fresh air, commissary and medical care. It does not rehabilitate people and leads to more violence.
You can sign by clicking on this link: http://www.credomobilize.com/petitions/end-solitary-confinement-in-illinois
Thanks to all who came out to our “12 Years Too Many Vigil” on January 10 and/or our panel discussion on January 11. We had a significant visual presence, including people wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods and lighted signs spelling out the message “CLOSE GITMO” provided by the Overpass Light Brigade. We read aloud the names of all the 155 men who are still imprisoned at Guantánamo, including the 76 men who have been cleared for release. We’ve posted some photos of the vigil here and click on the link to read press coverage by Progress Illinois.
(Photos by FJJ)
Friday, January 10, 4:30 to 5:30 PM
“12 Years Too Many!” Vigil
Meet at Federal Courthouse in Chicago (northeast corner of Dearborn and Jackson)
If you are on Facebook, please join our event there and invite friends.
Our witness is more powerful with you !
Saturday, January 11, 7 to 9 PM
An Evening to Discuss and Dissent!
Doors open at 6:30 for art exhibit, videos
Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn, Chicago
We will begin the evening with short performance by the Chicago Danz Theatre followed by a panel discussion on the current legal and political situation at Guantánamo Bay, followed by Q&A session. Our speakers are:
- Candace Gorman, a U.S. attorney for 2 men detained at Guantánamo (one has been released, the other remains in prison),
- Mario Venegas, an activist and torture survivor from Chile, and
- Dr. Antonio Martinez from the Institute for Survivors of Torture and Human Rights Abuses and a co-founder of the Marjorie Kovler Center here in Chicago.
If you are on Facebook, please join this event there, and invite friends.
Events sponsored by the Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantánamo (World Can’t Wait Chicago, Witness Against Torture, White Rose Catholic Worker, Illinois Coalition Against Torture, Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban Five).
Endorsed by 8th Day Center for Justice, Voices for Creative Non-Violence, Neighbors for Peace, The Chicago Cuba Coalition, Veterans for Peace Chicago, Amnesty International USA
We invite you to join the Chicago Coalition to Close Guantánamo for our weekly vigil on Friday at 4:30-5:30 pm at Dearborn and Jackson!
We are looking for folks to:
- Wear an orange jumpsuit and black hood which represent the men detained indefinitely in Guantánamo Bay Prison
- Hand out fliers to people walking by
- Engage people in conversation about the prison, policies and solutions to close Guantánamo!
- Hold a sign with the people in orange jumpsuits
- Come down to say hi, take a picture, make a post on Facebook/Twitter, etc.
- 167 Days Since President Obama’s Promise to Close Guantánamo: Only 2 Men Released: November 8, 2013
- 164 men remain imprisoned. 155 of them haven’t been charged.
- 84 men have been cleared for release, most of whom have been imprisoned without charge for more than 11 years.
- 14 men have been on hunger strike for 275 days.
- 14 men are being force-fed in violation of Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by the U.S., which prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.
Two fallacies about Guantánamo often repeated by the press:
1. President Obama is blocked by Congress from releasing or transferring many of the remaining 164 detainees from Guantánamo.
This is not so. Congress had passed legislation effectively blocking the president from transferring detainees to their home or other countries, but it then amended the law two years ago to allow the president to waive those restrictions. As Carl Levin, the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pointed out, that amendment “provides a clear route for the transfer of detainees to third countries.” The president has simply not used it.
2. There are some four dozen men at Guantánamo deemed too dangerous to release but who are ineligible for trial because evidence against them is inadmissible.
That line has been repeated time and again by the press, and never examined. It is simply not true. The government’s basis for detaining each of the men at Guantánamo is now publicly available on WikiLeaks….There are clearly some bad guys down there – generally acknowledged now as fewer than 20. These men can all be tried. The only thing preventing their conviction is the Military Commission System itself, which is totally untested and ineffective. They would all have been convicted long ago in our federal courts. An examination of the government’s basis for detaining the other men at Guantánamo shows that the reason they can’t be tried is not because the evidence against them is inadmissible, but simply because it is so flimsy and speculative that it would be laughed out of any federal court in the country.
Excerpted from Missing the Point at Guantánamo by Thomas B. Wilner, available at http://bit.ly/1c3lNuP
Find out more about efforts to end indefinite detention and torture by the U.S. Government at Guantánamo Bay.
Please sign petitions addressed to President Obama at the websites marked with a **.
**CLOSE GUANTÁNAMO: A group of lawyers, journalists, retired military personnel and concerned individuals who believe that Guantánamo undermines America’s values and harms its national security. http://www.closeguantanamo.org
WITNESS AGAINST TORTURE: Formed in 2005, when 25 Americans went to Guantánamo and attempted to visit the detention facility. Once we returned from that journey, we began to organize more broadly to shut down Guantánamo. http://witnesstorture.org
**WORLD CAN’T WAIT: A national movement formed to halt and reverse the terrible program of war, repression and theocracy that was initiated by the Bush regime and continued and even intensified under President Obama. http://www.worldcantwait.net
ANDY WORTHINGTON: Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantánamo expert. http://www.andyworthington.co.uk
MIAMI HERALD: http://www.miamiherald.com/guantanamo/
IL COALITION AGAINST TORTURE: https://twitter.com/Illinois_CAT
Track the days since Obama’s promise at http://gtmoclock.com
Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantánamo: World Can’t Wait, Witness Against Torture, White Rose Catholic Worker, Illinois Coalition Against Torture, Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban Five:
Thank you for your support!