As I write this, U.S. forces have just attacked Iraq. Around the time of PLN's fifth issue in 1990 the U.S. was preparing to attack Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait. The cause of war, U.S. dominance of the world's energy supplies, has not changed. Once the current war is over we can expect to see the incarceration of discharged veterans who fill American prisons after every large conflict. The corporate media has glossed over the fact that since the federal government restored the death penalty in 1988 they have executed three people, two of them Gulf War I veterans.
If American casualties mount in the Gulf we can expect to see growth in the domestic anti war movement. Historically, the prisoner's rights movement has grown along with, and tailed after, larger outside movements, both civil rights and anti war. There is a clear connection between domestic policies of repression and mass imprisonment and a foreign policy of imperial conquest and militarism. The same ruling class elites benefit from both while leaving the working class to pay the price with our taxes, blood and lives. SWAT teams and goon squads for Americans, bombers and cruise missiles for foreigners. Hopefully as the wider public questions the latter they will also question the former.
Recently progressive magazines such as The Nation and elements of the corporate media have engaged in hand wringing over the torture of alleged Al Qaida members. Even some prominent attorneys like Al Dershowitz have publicly voiced support for torturing alleged terrorist suspects. Troubling is the implication that only now is the U.S. engaging in torture, or perhaps only now considering it.
Torture has long been practiced by U.S. military and security forces. Indeed, it was recognition of the commonality of the "third degree" in most American police stations that led to the supreme court's landmark Miranda v. Arizona decision in 1966. After World War II the American government sent its agents around the world to train its allies and flunkies in torture techniques, from the Shah's SAVAK in Iran to South American and Asian torture states, American government agents institutionalized and professionalized what before had been haphazard torture practices. A.J. Languth's book, Hidden Terrors gives an excellent history of the US role in training torturers in South America. In Viet Nam the CIA's Phoenix Program was a policy and practice of torture and murder aimed at targeting supporters of Vietnamese independence. In many cases, the very vileness and repugnance of administrative and widespread torture and murder used by American puppet regimes may have hardened popular resolve that led to their collapse in Iran and Viet Nam, among others. In other places, like Argentina, Chile and Indonesia, the practice was brutally effective in crushing dissent.
But we need not venture overseas or into the distant past to document ongoing torture by the U.S. government and its agents. Shortly after the US brought its first batch of captives to Guantanamo Bay, on Cuban territory occupied by the US, Senator Diane Feinstein said the captives there had nothing to complain about. That their conditions of confinement were better than those of state prisoners in California.
Put in that context, the Guantanamo Bay captives are better off, even if they haven't had a trial, haven't been charged or convicted of anything and are held incommunicado from the world. At least, unlike California state prisoners, they aren't being raped in their cells by the guard's prisoner enforcers, are not being gunned down for sport, made to fight each other for their captor's amusement, nor housed in massively overcrowded facilities. Not as far as anyone knows, anyways. As noted in this issue of PLN's News in Brief section, at least two prisoners in Afghanistan were recently beaten to death by their American captors.
More significantly, for the past thirteen years, PLN has been reporting the ongoing, systematic and endemic abuses of the human and civil rights of American prisoners, including torture, sensory deprivation, beatings, sleep deprivation, long term isolation, pepper sprayings, murder, sexual assault and the whole sordid litany of ways in which power can be used to inflict pain, death, degradation and humiliation on a captive population. Preventive detention without committing a criminal act? Called civil confinement, PLN has covered that since its first year. The practice is merely expanding. None of this is new as a cursory review of PLN back issues would show. Unfortunately, I can't say that I think things are improving or changing for the better. As long as human rights violators have impunity, whether in the U.S., England, Iraq or El Salvador, abuses will continue. Unfortunately, too few in the American media and virtually no public figures are willing to examine what occurs in American prisons and jails.
When PLN started publishing in 1990 there were a number of national and local publications reporting on prison and jail issues. Today, virtually all of them are history and only a few prisoner rights publications exist today. PLN is the only national publication dedicated to exposing the human rights violations that occur on a daily basis in American prisons and jails. PLN has become a vital tool in the struggle for human rights by activists in and out of prison, lawyers and other advocates. Due to the political unpopularity of what we report, we are largely cut off from mainstream foundation funding. Thus, we rely mostly on support from our readers and advertisers to continue our work. As conditions worsen, the more there is to do.
To celebrate our 13th anniversary we have expanded from 36 to 40 pages. This will allow us to bring readers still more news and information about the American gulag, hopefully in a more timely manner. We need your support to both continue our work as well as cover the additional costs of expanding our size and bringing readers the first rate journalism and legal reporting that has become synonymous with PLN in the past 13 years. Please make a tax deductible donation to help support PLN's work.
This coming year will bring stories on the relation between war and prison industries, criminal government contractors, the war on the poor in the US, the private prison industry, prison labor outbidding third world sweat shops and much more.
I would like to thank all those people over the past 13 years who have made PLN possible, both to start, to continue and to grow as we have under considerable hardship and adversity. At this point there are so many people that have helped in so many ways, big and small, that it is impossible to thank them individually. You know who you are and without your support there would be no 13th PLN anniversary.
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