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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/13/19

The Torture of Assange Is Public Policy in U.S. Prisons

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Reprinted from Black Agenda Report

The Torture of Assange Is Public Policy in U.S. Prisons
The Torture of Assange Is Public Policy in U.S. Prisons
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The Torture of Assange Is Public Policy in U.S. Prisons

The psychological torture imposed on Julian Assange is not unlike the decades of torture imposed upon Black political prisoners in the US.

"For exposing the crimes of war, Assange is being treated like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli, and the rest of the Black liberation movement's soldiers who reside in prison."

Julian Assange is living a nightmare. The WikiLeaks journalist was hospitalized not too long after he was arrested and detained on April 11thfor publishing documents exposing U.S. war crimes and those of its affiliates. Assange has been kept in perpetual isolation in the U.K.'s Belmarsh prison, which is often called the U.K.'s Guantanamo Bay. The conditions of Assange's confinement have been labeled as torture by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture and cruel and unusual punishment. Indeed, the arrest of Assange set a disturbing precedent for the level of control that imperialist governments such as the U.S. and U.K. wield over journalistic practice. Assange's predicament also reveals the extent to which torture is public policy in the United States and its Western allies.

Former U.K. MP George Galloway stated that Assange might have to die in prison for U.K., U.S. and Western journalists to wake up and realize that Assange's fate is tied to theirs. However, the U.S., which is the imperialist state primarily responsible for Assange's condition, is a society that has no issue with torture. Torture is in the DNA of U.S. imperialism. The infant U.S. ruling class tortured African slaves through lynching and indiscriminate punishment. It also tortured indigenous peoples and nations to steal their land. The U.S. would go on to globalize its torture regime in nations such as the Philippines beginning in the 19thcentury. Water boarding began in the Philippines, although it was called the "water cure" at the time . The U.S. often uses torture as a precursor to murder, with millions of native Filipinos dying from war and disease between the years of 1899-1905 as a result of U.S. warfare.

"Torture is in the DNA of U.S. imperialism."

State sanctioned torture garnered the most attention after the CIA's War on Terror torture program was exposed by whistleblower John Kirakou . The C.I.A. employed a sadistic torture program on U.S.-operated black sites such as Guantanamo Bay and the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. No one in the intelligence or military apparatus was punished for these highly publicized war crimes. Even worse, the narrative of torture was covered up by the ruling class as a "mistake" and a singular "abuse of power." Former president Barack Obama promised to keep the Senate report on the torture program a secret for up to twelve years as one of his parting gifts to the ruling class in 2016.

The case of Assange bursts asunder any illusion that the U.S. employs torture only in exceptional circumstances. Torture is public policy in the U.S. so it should come as no surprise that Assange is being tortured inside of the U.K.'s prison system. As Margaret Kimberly reminds us, the U.K. has long been a satellite of U.S. imperial interests. Assange helped expose the U.S. as a criminal enterprise and what Martin Luther King Jr. called the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world." And his experience with torture mirrors that which is experienced within the prison system each day in the United States.

"The CIA. employed a sadistic torture program on U.S.-operated black sites such as Guantanamo Bay and the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq."

For over seven years, Assange has been confined to isolation inside of the U.K.'s Ecuadorian embassy and now its prison system. According to the U.N. special rapporteur Nils Melzer , the WikiLeaks journalist "has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture." What Melzer describes is the torture of prolonged exposure to isolation. In the U.S., prolonged exposure to isolation is public policy in the form of solitary confinement.

On any given day, an estimated 80-100,000 prisoners in the U.S. reside in solitary confinement units. Nearly every state in the U.S. possesses at least one supermax prison or an entire facility dedicated to confining prisoners in the condition of solitary. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture in 2011, Juan Mendez, declared that solitary confinement was a form of torture if it is employed for fifteen consecutive days. After two weeks, prisoners in solitary confinement are at risk of permanent changes to the brain and often develop symptoms of psychosis, PTSD, and a host of mental health disorder symptoms. Psychologist Stuart Grassian concluded from his research of prisoners in solitary confinement that the policy causes its own distinct diagnosable syndrome.

"In the U.S., prolonged exposure to isolation is public policy in the form of solitary confinement."

Prisoners in solitary confinement reside in a cell no bigger than 8x10 for up to 24 hours per day, free from human contact for periods of days to years. Solitary confinement, in the words of Lisa Guenther , is a form of social death whereby prisoners are humiliated and excluded to the point of non-existence. Black male prisoners are most likely to be exposed to the social death of solitary confinement. Black men comprise of forty-five percent of prisoners in isolation cells, which is up almost ten percent from their disproportionate incarceration in the general population (thirty-seven percent). Research suggests that Black male prisoners are most likely to be viewed as a threat to prison staff and receive the harshest treatment within prisons as a result.

Solitary confinement has existed for centuries in the U.S., but modern solitary confinement was in part a response to the Black liberation and prison movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1973, the Marion Federal Penitentiary opened an experimental site for the Control Unit (CU)a euphemism for solitary confinement. According to former Marion warden Ralph Aaron , "The purpose of the Marion Control Unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and in the society at large."Marion's CU warehoused hundreds of political prisoners in perpetual isolation with the hopes of modifying their behavior and breaking their spirit. Former political prisoner Sekou Odinga and current political prisoner Sundiata Acoli spent extended periods in Marion's CU.To this day, prisoners are sent to solitary for possessing literature from Black liberation movement leaders such as George Jackson.

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Danny Haiphong is co-coordinator of the Black Alliance for Peace Supporter Network and organizer with No Cold War. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People's History of Fake News--From the Revolutionary War to the War (more...)

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