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Torture in American Prisons – Class Action Law Suit Approved

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Glen Ford: The media has focused on Taliban torture, but ignores more than 80,000 prisoners held in solitary confinement across the country

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to The Ford Report with Glen Ford, who’s the executive editor of Black Agenda Report.

Glen now joins us from his office.

Thanks for joining us, Glen.

GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thanks for the opportunity, Paul.

JAY: So there’s been a lot of press about Sergeant Bergdahl and his torture and captivity in Afghanistan. There’s very little talk about torture that goes on within the United States.

FORD: Yeah. Sergeant Bergdahl says that during his five years of captivity he was sometimes held in a cage and tortured. We don’t know any more details about that, because they’re keeping him very, very closely watched, not letting him say much of anything. It does appear that they’re trying to get his and their stories straight before exposing him to the press. But, anyway, he says he was tortured at times while held in a cage for about five years, while the United States, not–Guantenamo notwithstanding, the United States at any given day holds 80,000 Americans in solitary confinement. That’s as large a population that is held in solitary confinement in the U.S. as the total prison population of most European countries.

On that front, a federal judge in California has allowed some Pelican Bay–that’s the supermax prison in California–some Pelican Bay inmates, who’ve been held there without being able to see people and talk, interact with other human beings for ten years or more, to file a suit as a class action. And this time it does appear that the merits–if we can use a word like merits when talking about putting people in solitary confinement for ten years or more–that the merits of solitary confinement may be debated in the courtroom. And the state of California, on behalf of the United States prison systems everywhere, will have to defend this barbaric practice, which most civilized people recognize to be a form of torture, a torture that in Pelican Bay can go on not just for ten years but for 20 years and more, four times as long as Sergeant Bergdahl says that he was harmed.

JAY: Yeah, just quick numbers: in Pelican Bay, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, more than 500 prisoners have been in solitary for more than ten years, and there’s another 78 have been at solitary for more than 20 years.

FORD: Yeah. And there’s nothing unique about California except the sheer numbers, it being the biggest state.

What is really so cynical, I believe, is that Eric holder, the U.S. attorney general, who oversees the federal prison system, which runs supermax facilities, which are nothing but giant warehouses, state-of-the-art warehouses for incarceration, most often for life, for thousands of inmates, is now trying to carve out a new kind of legacy for himself and the Obama administration as being liberal reformers by speaking out against solitary confinement for juveniles. And yet he heads up this federal system that has led the way in the world in terms of isolating human beings and then torturing them by not allowing them to be human for decades at a time.

JAY: And I think an important point that the Center for Constitutional Rights raises is that the way you can get out–this is again Pelican Bay–you can get out of solitary confinement on the whole is by giving information up on prisoners. In other words, this isn’t about that you’re a physical danger to other prisoners or you might be in danger to other prisoners; this is the use of torture to get information out of you, which clearly, one would think, is illegal.

FORD: How Gestapo-like can you get? You inflict this kind of social pain on people, which you promise will stop, the pain will stop, if you rat on others or concoct false stories against others, others who will then be subjected to the same kind of torture that you are if they don’t implicate other people.

JAY: And I think, as far as I’ve seen of the numbers, most–not all, but most people in solitary confinement do not have life. In other words, they’re coming out on the street someday. And all the studies have shown they come out completely shattered people. And then we expect these people then to somehow get along in society. It seems more than ridiculous.

FORD: And, in fact, most studies show that it doesn’t take ten years or even one year of solitary confinement to shatter people psychologically, that human beings are much more fragile than that. And it is a wonderment that anybody emerges even a little bit intact from lengthy terms of solitary confinement.

JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Glen.

FORD: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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