The United States leads the developed world in the number and percentage of children it locks up. A large number – more than 90,000 in each of the past five years, and some as young as at age 13 – are held in adult jails and prisons, where they are often isolated from the other prisoners for their own protection. They don’t fare much better in many state juvenile facilities, where isolation practices, some deemed excessive by the Department of Justice, are widely reported.
Solitary confinement – being held in isolation for 22-24 hours a day, day in and day out – can be harmful even for adults. But the potential damage to children, who do not have the maturity and resilience of an adult and are at a particularly vulnerable, formative stage of life, is much greater.
“Kids who had been in solitary told me how they lost control. They described fits of rage, anxiety attacks, depression. They told me about being denied adequate exercise, books and education, family visits. “The only thing left to do is go crazy – just sit and talk to the walls,” a youth confined in Florida told me. “Screaming, throwing stuff around – I feel like I am alone, like no one cares about me. Sometimes I feel like, why am I even living?” More than a few spoke in candid detail about trying to kill themselves. In fact, more than half of all suicides in juvenile facilities occurred when children were in isolation.”
- Ian Kysel, Human Rights Watch fellow. Read more here.
Photo: A cell at the Pinellas County jail, an adult facility where young people are held in solitary confinement. One girl interviewed for the report said she spent four months in isolation there. © 2008 AP Photo/Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office
The segment, in general, didn’t do CNN any favors. While they’re not necessarily rooting for the rapists, even the slightest bit of sympathy didn’t go over well, especially once it was lumped together with all of the outrageously offensive reactions of true Steubenville rapist sympathizers. Sarcastic example tweet: “The Steubenville story is all too familiar. Be responsible for your actions ladies before your drunken decisions ruin innocent lives.” Sincere example tweet: “So you got drunk at a party and two people take advantage of you,that’s not rape you’re just a loose drunk slut.” Of course, cases like the Steubenville rape trial can be polarizing, and we’ve long known how distorted some notions of justice can be.
Read more. [Image: CNN]
Just when you think it couldn’t get much worse in the military commissions at Guantánamo, something happens to prove you wrong. It all began in late January when, during pretrial hearings in the case against five men accused in the 9/11 attacks, the audio feed — which runs on a 40-second delay to prevent leaks of classified information — was abruptly cut off. The media and observers, who sit behind a soundproof glass wall at the back of the court, noted the silence. But the cut surprised even the military judge, who believed he was the only one with authority to press the button and who did not consider the information being discussed at that moment classified.
The audio cutoff was initiated “not by me,” the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, said angrily at the time, and “I’m curious as to why.” He added, “If some external body is turning the commission off under their own view of what things ought to be … then we are going to have a little meeting about who turns that light on or off.”
Read who cut the audio and how the how attorney-client meeting rooms were bugged »
Photo: Flags fly above the sign for Camp Justice at Guantanamo Bay.
© 2009 Reuters
As we think about what happened to Aaron, we need to recognize that it was not just prosecutorial overreach that killed him. That’s too easy, because that implies it’s one bad apple. We know that’s not true. What killed him was corruption. Corruption isn’t just people profiting from betraying the public interest. It’s also people being punished for upholding the public interest. In our institutions of power, when you do the right thing and challenge abusive power, you end up destroying a job prospect, an economic opportunity, a political or social connection, or an opportunity for media. Or if you are truly dangerous and brilliantly subversive, as Aaron was, you are bankrupted and destroyed. There’s a reason whistleblowers get fired. There’s a reason Bradley Manning is in jail. There’s a reason the only CIA official who has gone to jail for torture is the person – John Kiriako - who told the world it was going on. There’s a reason those who destroyed the financial system “dine at the White House”, as Lawrence Lessig put it. There’s a reason former Senator Russ Feingold is a college professor whereas former Senator Chris Dodd is now a multi-millionaire. There’s a reason DOJ officials do not go after bankers who illegally foreclose, and then get jobs as partners in white collar criminal defense. There’s a reason no one has been held accountable for decisions leading to the financial crisis, or the war in Iraq. This reason is the modern ethic in American society that defines success as climbing up the ladder, consequences be damned. Corrupt self-interest, when it goes systemwide, demands that it protect rentiers from people like Aaron, that it intimidate, co-opt, humiliate, fire, destroy, and/or bankrupt those who stand for justice.
Powerful. More here.
The commonality in all three of these episodes is self-evident: the perversion of the justice system and rule of law as nothing more than a weapon to legitimize even the most destructive state actions, while severely punishing those who oppose them. The US and its loyal thinktank scholars have long demanded that other states maintain an “independent judiciary” as one of the key ingredients for living under the rule of law. But these latest episodes demonstrate, yet again, that the judiciary in the US, along with the one in its prime Middle East client state, is anything but “independent”: its primary function is to shield government actors from accountability.
The US military has continuously imposed pitifully light “punishments” on its soldiers even for the most heinous atrocities. The wanton slaughter of two dozen civilians in Haditha, Iraq and the severe and even lethal torture of Afghan detainees generated, at worst, shockingly short jail time for the killers and, usually, little more than letters of reprimand.
Contrast this tepid, reluctant wrist-slapping for the brutal crimes of occupying soldiers with what a UN investigation found was the US government’s “cruel and inhuman treatment” of Bradley Manning before he was convicted of anything. Manning has been imprisoned for more than two years now without having been found guilty of any crimes – already longer than any of the perpetrators of these fatal abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan. He faces life in prison at the age of 23 for the alleged “crime” of disclosing to the world overwhelming evidence of corruption, deceit and illegality on the part of the world’s most powerful factions: disclosures that helped thwart the Obama administration’s efforts to keep US troops in Iraq, and which, as even WikiLeaks’ harshest critics acknowledge, played some substantial role in helping to spark the Arab spring.
Notably, the first disclosure for which Manning was allegedly responsible – the videotape of an Apache helicopter gunning down unarmed Reuters journalists and then the rescuers who came to help the wounded, including two young children – resulted in zero accountability: the US military exonerated everyone involved. Instead, it is Manning, the person accused of exposing these crimes, who is punished as the real criminal.
After nearly 10 years, military trials at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp have produced a total of six convictions. One of those was Australian David Hicks, who agreed to a plea bargain under which he would be sent back to Australia to serve out his sentence. On his release, he wrote a book about his experiences. Under Australian “proceeds of crime” laws, the earnings from books about a criminal career are liable to confiscation, and the Australian government accordingly froze the proceeds and took action to have them forfeited.
The news today is that the Director of Public Prosecutions has abandoned the actions and paid Hicks’ legal costs. Although no rationale was given, the general presumption is that the US conviction would not stand up in an Australian court, either because (as Hicks alleged) Hicks’ guilty plea was extracted by torture, or because the whole system failed to meet basic standards of due process. Most simple of all is the fact that, unlike the usual case of plea bargaining, the options aren’t pleading guilty or going to trial. Rather those who plead guilty get a definite (and usually relatively short) sentence on top of their detention, while those who do not are held indefinitely without trial.