Saturday, April 26, 2008

From Gitmo to Mass Incarceration

In the latest example of the US media treating our war on terror practices as having no relationship to our routine penal policies, the New York Times carries an article by William Glaberson that powerfully describes the mental destruction of terror suspect (and famed litigant) Salim Hamdan:

Next month, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was once a driver for Osama bin Laden, could become the first detainee to be tried for war crimes in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. By now, he should be busily working on his defense.

But his lawyers say he cannot. They say Mr. Hamdan has essentially been driven crazy by solitary confinement in an 8-foot-by-12-foot cell where he spends at least 22 hours a day, goes to the bathroom and eats all his meals. His defense team says he is suicidal, hears voices, has flashbacks, talks to himself and says the restrictions of Guantánamo “boil his mind.”

“He will shout at us,” said his military defense lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. Brian L. Mizer. “He will bang his fists on the table.”

His lawyers have asked a military judge to stop his case until Mr. Hamdan is placed in less restrictive conditions at Guantánamo, saying he cannot get a fair trial if he cannot focus on defending himself. The judge is to hear arguments as soon as Monday on whether he has the power to consider the claim.

Critics have long asserted that Guantánamo’s climate-controlled isolation is a breeding ground for madness. But turning that into a legal claim marks a new stage for the military commissions at Guantánamo. As military prosecutors push to get trials under way, they are being met with challenges not just to the charges, but to Guantánamo itself.

Pentagon officials say that Guantánamo holds dangerous men humanely and that there is no unusual quantity of mental illness there. Guantánamo, a military spokeswoman said, does not have solitary confinement, only “single-occupancy cells.”

Unmentioned in the article is that tens of thousands of US prisoners are currently serving time in so called "supermax" prisons whose routine regime involves precisely the same components of 23 hour a day lock down imprisonment.

That the result of this kind of imprisonment can be mental degeneration by both inmates and staff (and resulting barbaric violence) has been well established for over a decade, at least since the landmark Madrid v. Gomez decision involved California's Pelican Bay prison.


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