Perverted Prison Justice
Here’s an example of how the prison rape-elimination law gets violated; and not by other prisoners.
Many of you know that I’ve written about whistleblower Marty Gottesfeld in the past. Marty was sentenced to a draconian 10 years in prison for initiating a denial-of-service attack against a hospital in defense of a young girl whom the hospital’s doctors were later found to have abused. Even worse than the duration of his sentence, Marty was placed in the Communications Management Unit (CMU) of the notorious federal penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana, the site of federal death row.
The CMU was created after the Sept. 11 attacks to house terrorists and to ensure that they could not communicate with the outside world. This is where the Justice Department put Marty for taking down a website over the course of a weekend.
One of the reasons that I admire Marty is that, no matter how tough things get for him, he continues to push forward. Being gutsy is one thing. Being gutsy in the face of abuse and violence is something altogether different.
Marty and I are in irregular touch, not because he’s not a faithful correspondent, but because his communications are routinely interrupted by prison officials. For example, Marty is currently appealing his sentence, and he has a fighting chance at having it overturned. As a result, the prison administrators have reacted by cutting off his email access to the outside world, including to his attorneys, cutting off his phone privileges for more than six months at a time, and illegally reading his incoming and outgoing legal mail. But still Marty pushes ahead.
Imagine how difficult — and frustrating — it would be to be mounting a legitimate appeal to a conviction and to be constantly harassed by people with complete control and authority over you, people who don’t care at all that you have legal rights. After all, what are you going to do about it? Sue them? Good luck.
The New Unit Manager
I received a rare email from Marty earlier this week. He wrote to tell me about his new “unit manager.” The unit manager is the person responsible for the day-to-day running of the housing unit, in this case the Communications Management Unit. To give you an idea of the kind of environment Marty lives in, his unit manager is also responsible for nearby death row. Want to schedule a time to talk to your attorney? Need some help reaching out to a pastor or priest? Tough luck. You’re on death row. You won’t need any of that stuff soon.
The problem with the new unit manager is more sinister than just not being responsive, though.
First, he only recently became the unit manager. He was a Bureau of Prisons guard and administrative functionary before that. In his email, Marty said prisoners have filed multiple complaints against him over the past few years alleging sexual abuse.
Many of the prisoners filing the complaints were being held in the CMU. So instead of conducting an investigation of the allegations, what did the warden do? He put the same man in charge of the very prisoners who had complained about him. And what did this man do when he became the unit manager? He ordered prisoners to be strip searched for no other reason than for him to stand there and stare at their naked bodies.
Last week, the unit manager inexplicably stuck his hands in the shower when Marty was bathing, naked, of course. Was it meant to intimidate? Was it to cop a feel? It was a violation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) regardless of the reason.
Prison Legal News (PLN) magazine has published extensively on violations of the PREA. The consensus of universities and organizations that follow the issue is that the act is doing little-to-nothing to protect prisoners — not from other prisoners — but from guards. As I’ve written previously, the complaint procedure in the federal prison system is designed to protect the wrongdoer. Here’s how it works.
Let’s say a perverted prison administrator orders you to strip so that he can ogle you. You know this is a violation of the PREA. You must then file a form called a BP-8.5, which goes to the person you are accusing, saying, “Hey, you violated the PREA.” His response, of course, will be “No I didn’t.” You then have 14 days to file a Form BP-9, which goes to the warden. The warden, not surprisingly, almost always supports his staff member. You then have 60 days to file a form BP-10, which goes to the Bureau of Prisons regional office. Once the prisoner loses there, which is almost guaranteed, he can file a Form BP-11, which goes to the Bureau of Prisons headquarters in Washington. No prisoner ever wins at BOP headquarters.
There are common ways in which the prisoner is stymied in his attempt to file a complaint. The filing of every form is time sensitive. So the warden and others will withhold their responses, backdate them, and then send the responses to you so that you only have a day or two to respond. You can’t possibly get it done in time, so it’s dismissed as “not responsive in a timely fashion.” You have no recourse because the federal courts have ruled that a prisoner must exhaust the “administrative complaint process” before going to the courts. But if the complaint is dismissed by the BOP as “not responsive” because of time, you’re out of luck. And those people who violate the Prison Rape Elimination Act get off scot free.
That’s what is happening here. Marty’s hands are tied. He tried to go through the process, but the process is stacked against him. He won’t find justice in the “Justice” Department. So it’s up to the rest of us to call out illegality. Marty’s appeal hearing took place on June 10. I listened to it and it seemed to go well. Hope isn’t a strategy, but his attorney seems to truly know what he’s doing.
In the meantime, I want the world to know what goes on in these sickening prison units. I want people to know how Americans are treated. Remember, as Martin Luther King said, “The arc of a moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.