Dr. Atul Gawande: Solitary Confinement is Torture

DemocracyNow.org interviewed Dr Atul Gawande on january 5th 2011 about health care, but also about Solitary Confinement. Here is the rush transcript:

The physical and psychological effects experienced by people held for extended periods in solitary confinement is a topic Dr. Atul Gawande has written extensively about. Yesterday, four prisoners in the supermax Ohio State Penitentiary launched a hunger strike to protest being held for more than 17 years years in solitary confinement. The alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, has also been held in solitary confinement for much of the past seven months. “People experience solitary confinement as even more damaging than physical torture,” says Dr. Gawande.

Guest:

Dr. Atul Gawande, associate professor at Harvard School of Public Health and is a practicing surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He’s also a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. He is the author of three books; the most recent is The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: I want to switch gears for a moment. You wrote a remarkable piece about the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners, on people who have been held in isolation for a long time. On this issue, I just want to turn to the case of the four prisoners in a supermax prison, the Ohio State Penitentiary. This week they launched a hunger strike to protest what they call their harsh mistreatment under solitary confinement. The prisoners—Bomani Shakur, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Jason Robb and Namir Abdul Mateen—were sentenced to death for their involvement in the 1993 prison uprising in Lucasville, Ohio. For over 17 years, they’ve been held in 23-hours-a-day solitary lockdown. On Monday, the four began refusing to eat meals until they are moved out of solitary confinement and onto death row, where they say they’ll get better treatment. Yesterday I spoke—Amy spoke with the longtime peace activist, historian and lawyer, Staughton Lynd. He wrote the definitive history of the 1993 Ohio prison uprising at Lucasville. He described the prisoners’ conditions. Let’s take a listen.

STAUGHTON LYND: They are held in more restrictive confinement than the more than 100 other death sentence prisoners in the same prison. Now, why is this? It’s precisely because the system thinks of them as leaders. So, it will let them watch television. They even let Bomani Shakur use a typewriter. But what they don’t let any of the four men do is to be in the same space as another human being other than a guard at the same time. And this means that while other death sentence prisoners can wander about the pod, can have collective meals outside their cells, and especially can have semi-contact visits with their friends and families, the four are always obliged to encounter the world either through a solid cell door or, when they go out on a visit, through a solid pane of glass. So that, again, Bomani has a niece and nephew aged eight and three that he loves and would wish to touch. If he were on death row, he could do that. But he’s been told by the prison authorities he will never be on death row, because they’re going to keep him in social isolation until they kill him.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Staughton Lynd, the longtime peace activist, lawyer, talking about these four men who have now gone on a hunger strike at the Ohio State Penitentiary, demanding to be put on death row, where they say that they will be treated better.

And then we’ve got the case of the alleged WikiLeaks Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, who’s being held in solitary confinement. Twenty-two years old, U.S. Army private, arrested in May, has been in detention ever since. For the past five months, he’s been held at the U.S. Marine brig at Quantico, Virginia, before that, held for two months in a military jail in Kuwait. Last month, we spoke to Glenn Greenwald, the political and legal blogger at Salon.com. Glenn reported that Manning is being held under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment, and even torture. This is what Glenn Greenwald said.

GLENN GREENWALD: He’s been held for seven months without being convicted of any crime. And the conditions that I recently discovered he’s being held in are really quite disturbing. And this has been true for the entire seven-month duration of his detention. He is in solitary confinement, and he’s not only in solitary confinement, which means that he’s in a cell alone, but he’s there for 23 out of 24 hours every day. He is released for one hour a day only. So, 23 out of the 24 hours a day he sits alone. He is barred from even doing things like exercising inside of his cell. He’s constantly supervised and monitored, and if he does that, he’s told immediately to stop. There are very strict rules about what he’s even allowed to do inside the cell. Beyond that, he’s being denied just the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, such as a pillow and sheets, and has been denied that without explanation for the entire duration of his visit, as well. And there is a lot of literature and a lot of psychological studies, and even studies done by the U.S. military, that show that prolonged solitary confinement, which is something that the United States does almost more than any other country in the Western world, of the type to which Manning is subjected, can have a very long-term psychological damage, including driving people to insanity and the like. It clearly is cruel and unusual; it’s arguably a form of torture. And given that Manning has never been convicted of anything, unlike the convicts at supermaxes to whom this treatment is normally applied, it’s particularly egregious.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: That’s Glenn Greenwald, the political and legal blogger at Salon.com. In his piece that he wrote about Manning, he actually cited your article “Hellhole,” which you document what happens to people held in isolation. Explain why this is thought of as a form of torture in many places.

DR. ATUL GAWANDE: Well, I was interested in whether it really was torture, and I was interested because this has become, I think, a generationally defining question for us. In the 1980s, during the Reagan administration, solitary confinement was very unusual. Today, we have over 50,000 people in long-term solitary confinement in our American prisons now. You know, in states like New York— it’s across every—red and blue states. We have—New York has over eight percent of its prison population in long-term solitary confinement. A large proportion—some think a majority—are not there for violent offenses, either. It’s a method of control that we regard as increasingly routine. And so, what my puzzle was, is it torture, or is it not?

And what I looked back to was the experience and the literature, which is much richer, around what hostages and prisoners of war—our Vietnam veterans, for example—experienced when they went through solitary confinement. And what’s found is that people experience solitary confinement as even more damaging than physical torture. Vietnam veterans who received physical torture—John McCain had two-and-a-half years in solitary confinement, had his legs and arm broken during his imprisonment, but described the two-and-a-half years that he spent in solitary as being the most cruel component and the most terrifying aspect of what he went under. You also look at studies that show that people held in isolation from other human beings—we actually need social, friendly interaction with other people to be sane, to be absolutely—

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right. You document how people actually reach a level of psychosis.

DR. ATUL GAWANDE: That’s right. Not everybody.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: They begin to lose their minds, right?

DR. ATUL GAWANDE: Not everybody. The people who become psychotic in solitary confinement are people who often have attention deficit disorder or low IQ or issues of prior mental illness. Well, guess who is in our prisons? And there’s a very high rate of psychosis and people flat-out going crazy under the confinement conditions. And so, then what I puzzle over is, does it actually reduce our violence in our prisons? The evidence from multiple studies now is that not only that it has not reduced violence, it’s increased the costs of being in prison. And my finding was that we have decided that when it is political—when it is a prisoner of war or a hostage, that it is absolutely torture when other countries do this to people, and that there is no discernible difference in the experience of what people go through in our prisons, when they’re in solitary confinement for 14 years, in the case of one person who I documented, that this is torture.

Source: DemocracyNow. Please support them!

On Bradley Manning, Solitary Confinement, and Selective Outrage

Please read this good article and understand that solitary confinement is widespread in the USA, and we have to keep on telling it until it stops, because it is torture:

From Solitary Watch
January 2, 2011
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway
Solitary Watch

For the past few weeks, progressive online media sources have been alive with outrage against the conditions in which accused Wikileaker Bradley Manning is being held. Manning (as we first noted on Solitary Watch back in July) is in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement at a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, denied sunlight, exercise, possessions, and all but the most limited contact with family and friends. He has now been in isolation for more than seven months. The cruel and inhuman conditions of his detention, first widely publicized by Glenn Greenwald on Salon and expanded upon by others, are now being discussed, lamented, and protested throughout the progressive blogosphere (ourselves included). Few of those taking part in the conversation hesitate to describe Manning’s situation as torture.

Meanwhile, here at Solitary Watch, we’ve been receiving calls and emails from our modest band of readers, all of them saying more or less the same thing: We’re glad Bradley Manning’s treatment is getting some attention, but what about the tens of thousands of others who are languishing in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails? According to available data, there are some 25,000 inmates in long-term isolation in the nation’s supermax prisons, and as many as 80,000 more in solitary in other prisons and jails. Where is the outrage–even among progressives–for these forgotten souls? Where, even, is some acknowledgment of their existence?

A few of the writers who champion Manning have, to be fair, mentioned in passing the widespread use of solitary confinement in the United States. A very few have gone further: One powerful piece by Lynn Parramore on New Deal 2.0, for example, uses the Manning case as an opportunity to document and denounce the brutal realities of solitary confinement. She urges readers to “remember the thousands of people being tortured in American prisons, including Bradley Manning, and let us send our own message back to our government: We are Americans…Most assuredly, we will not accept torture in our name. Not of the accused. Not of the mentally ill. Not even of convicted criminals.”

But Parramore’s piece is an anomaly. More often, progressive writers–and their readers, if comments are any measure–have gone to some lengths to distinguish Bradley Manning from the masses of other prisoners being held in similar conditions. Whether explicitly or implicitly, they depict Manning as exceptional, and therefore less deserving of his treatment and more worthy of our concern.

Frequently, writers and readers make the point that Manning is being subjected to these condition while he is merely accused , rather than convicted, of a crime. Perhaps they need to be introduced to the 15-year-old boy who, along with several dozen other juveniles, is being held is solitary in a jail in Harris County, Texas, while he awaits trial on a robbery charge. He is one of hundreds–if not thousands–of prisoners being held in pre-trial solitary confinement, for one reason or another, on any given day in America. Most of them lack decent legal representation, or are simply too poor to make bail.
We have also seen articles suggesting that the treatment Manning is receiving is worse than the standard for solitary confinement, since he is deprived even of a pillow or sheets for his bed. Their authors should review the case of the prisoners held in the St. Tammany Parish Jail in rural Louisiana. According to a brief by the Louisiana ACLU, “After the jail determines a prisoner is suicidal, the prisoner is stripped half-naked and placed in a 3′ x 3′ metal cage with no shoes, bed, blanket or toilet…Prisoners report they must curl up on the floor to sleep because the cages are too small to let them lie down. Guards frequently ignore repeated requests to use the bathroom, forcing some desperate people to urinate in discarded containers…People have been reportedly held in these cages for days, weeks, and months.” The cells are one-fourth the size mandated by local law for caged dogs.

There is, rightly, concern over the damage being done to Manning’s mental health by seven months in solitary. Seldom mentioned is the fact that an estimated one-third to one-half of the residents of America’s isolation units suffer from mental illness, and solitary confinement cells have, in effect, become our new asylums. Witness the ACLU of Montana’s brief on a 17-year-old mentally ill inmate who “was so traumatized by his deplorable treatment in the Montana State Prison that he twice attempted to kill himself by biting through the skin on his wrist to puncture a vein.” During his ten months in solitary confinement, he was tasered, pepper sprayed, and stripped naked in view of other inmates, and “his mental health treatment consists of a prison staff member knocking on his door once a week and asking if he has any concerns.”

Finally, many have argued that the nature of Manning’s alleged crimes renders him a heroic political prisoner, rather than a “common” criminal. Those who take this line might want to look into the “Communications Management Units” at two federal prisons, where, according to a lawsuit filed last year by the Center for Constitutional Rights, prisoners are placed in extreme isolation “for their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, unpopular political views, or in retaliation for challenging poor treatment or other rights violations in the federal prison system.” Or they might investigate the aftermath of the recent prison strike in Georgia, in which several inmates have reportedly been thrown into solitary for leading a nonviolent protest against prison conditions.
All of these cases are “exceptional,” but only in that they earned the attention of some journalist or advocate. Most prisoners held solitary confinement are, by design, silent and silenced. Most of their stories–tens of thousands of them–are never told at all. And solitary confinement is now used as a disciplinary measure of first resort in prisons and jails across the country, so its use is anything but exceptional.

All across America, inmates are placed in isolation for weeks or months not only for fighting with other inmates or guards, but for being “disruptive” or disobeying orders; for being identified as a gang member (often by a prison snitch or the wrong kind of tattoo); or for having contraband, which can include not only a weapon but a joint, a cell phone, or too many postage stamps. In Virginia, a dozen Rastafarians were in solitary for more than a decade because they refused to cut their dreadlocks, in violation of the prison code. In many prisons, juveniles and rape victims are isolated “for their own protection” in conditions identical to those used for punishment. And for more serious crimes, the isolation simply becomes more extreme, and more permanent: In Louisiana, two men convicted of killing a prison guard have been in solitary confinement for 38 years.

Moreover, if solitary confinement is torture–or at the very least, cruel and inhuman punishment–it shouldn’t matter what a prisoner has done to end up there. As Lynn Parramore writes, “The placement of human beings in solitary confinement is not a measure of their depravity. It is a measure of our own.”
The treatment of Bradley Manning, which has introduced many on the left to the torment of solitary confinement, may present an opportunity for them to measure their own humanity. They might begin by asking themselves whether prison torture is wrong, and worthy of their attention and outrage, only when it is committed against people whose actions they admire.

http://solitarywatch.com/2011/01/02/on-bradley-manning-solitary-confinement-and-selective-outrage/

See for instance: Russell Maroon Shoats: 21 years in solitary confinement

Global Action Days Announced in Support of Accused WikiLeaks Whistleblower Bradley Manning

25 August 2010
MEDIA ADVISORY – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:
Jeff Paterson
press [at] bradleymanning [dot] org
+1-202-640-4388

Individuals and activists plan events internationally to show support for the accused WikiLeaks whistleblower on September 16-19.

Washington DC, August 24, 2010 — On September 16-19, 2010, activist organizations and individuals will take to the streets to call on the United States government to drop the charges against Army Private First Class Bradley Manning. Manning, 22, has been held in isolation since May, charged with releasing classified documents including a video that shows American troops shooting and killing 11 people, including two Reuters employees, in 2007.

Manning’s imprisonment has resulted in an international outcry, with groups and activists throughout the US and abroad demanding his release and calling for transparency in America’s war policies. Famed Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg has said that if Mr. Manning is related to the leak, then he is “a new hero of mine.”

The timing of these International Days of Action coincides with the approximate dates of WikiLeaks’ next scheduled document release.

Supporters of Bradley Manning are calling for his immediate release and that all charges against him be dropped, regardless of which person or persons contributed to the release of the WikiLeaks documents. Filmmaker Michael Moore, who joined the Bradley Manning Support Network’s Advisory Board over the weekend, stated: “Whoever is responsible for the Afghanistan leaks is a courageous patriot who should be celebrated for bringing the truth of this war to the American people. Whether or not Pfc. Bradley Manning is the leaker, he must be set free.”

Learn more: http://www.bradleymanning.org/days-of-action/