Within any brutal and isolated institution, new language tends to form, like scar tissue. In the 1990s, Rikers Island—New York City’s largest jail, encircled by the East River—was no exception. Corrections officers, mental health workers, and administrators had a special name for inmates in solitary confinement whom they believed faked suicidal tendencies in order to be placed under mental observation: “bing monsters.” “Bing,” a common word on the inside for solitary confinement, evokes the feeling of a brain clouding and sanity suddenly snapping—bing! “Monster” because for many jail staffers there was nothing worse than a malingering inmate who used up precious prison resources by feigning madness.
In her new memoir, Lockdown on Rikers, Mary Buser recounts how, during a decade-long career in healthcare at Rikers Island, she went from a chipper, idealistic mental health counselor to a disillusioned administrator (always with a cigarette handy in the later days). Her professional stint at the jail began in 1991 as a part-time intern, while she was a graduate student at Columbia University’s School for Social Work, and ended with her practically running the mental health department of the Otis Bantum Correctional Center, the complex that houses Rikers’ Punitive Segregation Unit.
Throughout her plainspoken, harrowing memoir Buser is sensitive to how word choice can mask and manage the horrors of prison life, and of solitary confinement in particular. Her linguistic flexibility was, after all, a talent she was selected for as a counselor, the ability to make a potentially life-changing connection with every inmate she encountered. But by the end of her time at Rikers words like “rehabilitate” and “therapy” lose out to “stabilize” and “contain.” Buser’s memoir demonstrates how mental health workers, supposedly the peaceful, civilian presence in a correctional center, can end up perpetrating institutional violence themselves. Even those as conscientious as Buser.
The mid-1990s marked the peak of Rikers’ incarcerated population, when the complex held some 24,000 inmates. This swell in the non-violent prison population was part of a national crusade against drug offenders. In New York, the 1973 Rockefeller drug laws introduced dramatic mandatory minimums (fifteen years to life for being caught trafficking as little as four ounces of drugs). These weren’t scaled down until the Drug Law Reform Act of 2004—even then, mandatory sentences for crimes of the same stature were eight to twenty years. Buser witnessed how the famed “drug sweeps” got low-level drug traffickers, many of them women, mired in the criminal justice system for decades. The mid-to-late 1990s was also the heyday of then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s tough-on-crime strategies that choked the city’s jails. His portrait hung in the lobby at Otis Bantum.
Buser refers to most of these prisoners as “detainees” since Rikers Island is, then as now, largely a holding center for people who are awaiting trial but can’t make bail or have been remanded to custody. Of course most of these cases never make it to trial, resulting in plea bargains instead. Today, though the jail’s total population is about half what it was in Buser’s time, little else about it has changed—90 percent of inmates at Rikers Island are black or Latino; about 85 percent have not been convicted of a crime; 40 percent have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
And no part of the jail is more brutal than the solitary confinement units.
“I can’t help but feel that [solitary confinement] has all the earmarks of torture,” Buser muses.
In this particular scene she’s reacting to the case of inmate Troy Jackson, who’s beaten his head bloody against his cell wall. Buser can see clear to his skull. Her orders as mental health administrator are to keep him alive and keep other inmates from duplicating his actions, nothing more.
“When you call someone a monster, or a skel, or a body, then it suddenly becomes okay to do whatever you want to them because they’re not really human beings,” Buser writes. This is how you get doctor-certified torture at a black site just a land-bridge away from one of the wealthiest cites in the country. First “people” become “bodies” then “torture” becomes “segregation.” The dirty secret is locked behind a wall of semantics.
Buser’s anecdotes from Rikers, where few stories ever get out to the general public, are much needed today. Two years ago the U.N. published a report by its Special Rapporteur on Torture, stating that solitary confinement of 15 days or more is torture. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of solitary confinement cells in Rikers increased by 60 percent. In 2014 the stories of Kalief Browder, who began three years at Rikers, much of it in solitary, at the age of 16, only to have all charges against him dropped, and Jerome Murdough, a homeless veteran who baked to death in one of the jail’s mental health units, brought fresh attention to harsh confinement conditions.
In April 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio hired a new Department of Corrections commissioner, Joseph Ponte, a veteran of private prison administration who has been touted by the government and media alike as a proven criminal justice “reformer.” Ponte vowed to “end the culture of excessive solitary confinement.” Integral to his plan was the construction of a new Enhanced Security Housing unit, which he was adamant would be a non-punitive, “therapeutic” alternative to solitary confinement.
Yet two months after the ESH unit opened in February, the Board of Corrections released its first report—and it was scathing, noting that there had been several violent incidents and that many inmates felt unsafe. “Several ESH inmates have expressed to BOC staff they prefer being confined in punitive segregation than being housed in ESH,” the report reads. “They know that a punitive segregation sentence is for a fixed period of time; the duration of a stay in ESH is uncertain.”
Dostoevsky famously wrote that “A society can be judged by the condition of its jails.” This proverb, Buser notes, is inscribed above the entryway to the George Motchan Detention Center, one of the largest of Rikers Island’s jails. In a way, it’s the perfect institutional phrase, morally compelling yet sanitized of standards. It’s a potentially radical message, at least in America: jails aren’t the social exception, they are the social rule. When a jail as depraved as Rikers openly proclaims this, it doesn’t realize or can’t admit how sick it really is.
Hannah K. Gold is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer.
Caption: The door of an EHS unit inside Rikers Island in New York, Thursday, March 12, 2015.
The post From Inside Rikers Island, a Harrowing Look at the Torture of Solitary Confinement appeared first on The Intercept.
Yesterday afternoon, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power marched to Twitter to proclaim: “we call on Russia to immediately cease attacks on Syrian oppo[sition and] civilians.” Along with that decree, she posted a statement from the U.S. and several of its closest authoritarian allies – including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UK – warning Russia that civilian casualties “will only fuel more extremism and radicalization.”
Early this morning, in the Afghan city of Kunduz, the U.S. dropped bombs on a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)). The airstrike killed at least 9 of the hospital’s medical staff, and seriously injured dozens of patients. “Among the dead was the Afghan head of the hospital, Abdul Sattar,” reported The New York Times.
Jason Cone, MSF’s Executive Director, said the medical charity “condemns in the strongest possible terms the horrific bombing of its hospital in Kunduz full of staff and patients.” He added that “all parties [to the] conflict, including in Kabul & Washington, were clearly informed of precise GPS Coordinates of MSF facilities in Kunduz,” and that the “precise location of MSF Kunduz hospital [was] communicated to all parties on multiple occasions over past months, including on 9/29.” Worst of all, from MSF itself:
Bombing continued for >30 minutes after American & Afghan military officials in Kabul & Washington first informed of proximity to hospital.
— MSF International (@MSF) October 3, 2015
For its part, the U.S. military in Afghanistan issued a statement acknowledging that it carried out airstrikes, claimed they were conducted “against individuals threatening the force,” and conceded that “the strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” But the NYT reported: “From early on, the Taliban had respected the hospital’s request not to bring weapons inside, according to staff members, and the hospital had been a refuge in the shattered city of Kunduz. It was a place where the wounded from all sides were treated.”
— MSF Canada (@MSF_canada) September 30, 2015
Now, however, the Twitter accounts of various MSF branches are filled with horrific photographs of their staff traumatized and their hospital burning as a result of U.S. bombs:
— MSF UK Press Office (@MSF_Press) October 3, 2015
MSF’s full, frequently updated, hard-to-read account of all of this is here.
This strike on a hospital in Afghanistan comes days after the Saudi-led coalition bombed a wedding in Yemen that killed more than 130 people. After days of silence from the U.S. Government – which has actively participated from the start in the heinous bombing of Yemen – Ambassador Power finally acknowledged the wedding massacre, but treated it like some natural disaster that has nothing to do with the U.S.: “Terrible news from Yemen of killing of innocent civilians & aid workers. Urgently need pol solution to crisis,” she tweeted.
Her accompanying statement claimed that “the United States has no role in the targeting decisions made by the Coalition in Yemen,” but yesterday, the Saudi Foreign Minister told CBS News that “We work with our allies including the United States on these targets.” There’s no dispute that the U.S. has lavished the Saudis with all sorts of weapons and intelligence as it carries out its civilian-massacring attacks on Yemen.
This last week has been a particularly gruesome illustration of continuous U.S. conduct under the War on Terror banner, including under the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president who celebrates himself for “ending two wars” (in the same two countries where the U.S. continues to drop bombs). The formula by now is clear: bombing whatever countries it wants, justifying it all by reflexively labeling their targets as “terrorists,” and then dishonestly denying or casually dismissing the civilians they slaughter as “collateral damage.” If one were to construct a list of all the countries in the world based on their credibility to condemn Russia for using this exact rhetorical template in Syria, the U.S. would literally be last on that list.
UPDATE: U.S. officials went to TIME Magazine yesterday to announce that Russia will be creating more terrorists than they kill as a result of misguided airstrikes in Syria. “We believe if you inadvertently kill innocent men, women and children, then there’s a backlash from that,” Lieut. General Bob Otto, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance said. “We might kill three and create 10 terrorists. It really goes back to the question of are we killing more than were making?”
It’s impossible to fathom what the U.S. media would be saying and doing if Russia did something like this in Syria. By contrast, the reaction to this airstrike by their own government will be muted and filled with apologia, ironically quite similar to the widely vilified caricature of Jeb Bush’s comments about the Oregon shooting spree: “stuff happens.”
Caption: Afghan (MSF) surgeons work inside a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital after an air strike in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan in this October 3, 2015
The post One Day After Warning Russia of Civilian Casualties, the U.S. Bombs a Hospital in Afghanistan appeared first on The Intercept.
On Common Security for the European Union and Russia
In Sweden before the Parliamentary elections in 2014, the Swedish Government signed the Host Nation Agreement with NATO. The implication of this signature was that NATO, in times of crisis and war, will be able to deploy military equipment and staff for training on Swedish soil. Since nuclear weapons are not directly mentioned in this Agreement, they might very well be included in the process, forcing Sweden to support the NATO nuclear policy.
In Finland, the ‘Memorandum of Understanding of Host Nation Support’ – the prelude to the Agreement – is little known by the public and, probably, also to most politicians. It is said that it is only a part of “a planning and review process” that concerns Finland. It consists of 57 points leading to an extremely profound commitment to NATO.
While even during the height of the Cold War, Finland and Sweden remained neutral, they are now, without much public discussion and debate, being forced further away from neutrality into a much closer relationship with the NATO Alliance and perilously close to full NATO membership. This process heightens tension in the Baltic Region as it encompasses an increase in war exercises and, consequently, the arms race.
Getting closer to NATO means a much increased defence budget. If Sweden and Finland finally join NATO this will result in a doubling of the military expenditure – reflected in the already existing demands to increase the military budget to 2% of the GDP.
The developments above are taking place while there is an alarming increase of mass migration of people fleeing countries at war. We are convinced and believe that wars must be immediately stopped in Syria and everywhere else. In Syria today 50% of the population are refugees in and outside the country. Resources must be used for humanitarian aid, adequate social welfare and eradicating the reasons forcing citizens becoming war refugees. We must achieve security by working in unison with the various adversaries as there is no military solution in such a conflict. We have to create a climate of security for all with the tools of a just foreign policy and diplomacy, civil conflict prevention and resolution, dialogue and negotiations, international co-operation and foreign aid.
We need a new Helsinki Agreement. Helsinki I that took place forty years ago led to the OSCE – the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. A new such Agreement will have to incorporate people to people diplomacy, civil society and the peace movement as active participants.
We call on the Swedish and Finnish leaders to reject the idea of a Host Nation Support Agreement with NATO.
In 2016, we will plan a Conference on NATO/EU in Sweden and will be active at the NATO Summit in Poland.
Helsinki – September 6th 2015
The Conference on NATO and Russia in the Baltic Sea Area.
Download the Helsinki Statement 2015.pdf
Protokoll der 2. Antifa/Antira-Versammlung in Berlin
Nach einer kurzen Einleitung gab es 5 Gruppen die zu den folgenden Themen diskutiert haben. Das Protokoll versucht die wichtigsten genannten Themen und Ideen zu sammeln und erhebt keinen Anspruch auf Vollständigkeit. Einzelne Termine für weitere Planungen der Gruppen und genannte anstehende Aktionen sind am Ende zusammengefasst. Es besteht der Wunsch an breiterer Vernetzung, demzufolge wir es eine weitere VV in den nächsten Monaten geben.
Labours neuer Parteichef versetzt das Königreich in Aufruhr -
Von SEBASTIAN RANGE, 1. Oktober 2015 -
Über Jahrzehnte hat er sich als linker Querulant und rebellischer Hinterbänkler im britischen Unterhaus einen Namen gemacht, doch den meisten ausländischen politischen Beobachtern war sein Name bis vor kurzem noch gänzlich unbekannt. Das hat sich mit einem Schlag geändert: Am 12. September wurde Jeremy Corbyn zum neuen Vorsitzenden der oppositionellen Labour-Partei gewählt – und damit das Establishment des Königreichs in Aufruhr versetzt.
Der Londoner sitzt seit über drei Jahrzehnten als Abgeordneter im Unterhaus. Hunderte Male stimmte er währenddessen gegen den Kurs seiner Parteiführung. Dem unter Tony Blair