“The Darkest Corner,” a report by the Center for Constitutional Rights describes human and civil rights violations in the US federal prison system. The September 2017 report depicts the horrific realities that prisoners, lawyers, family members, and psychologists have long tried to bring to light about the expanding use of Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) and solitary confinement within the U.S. federal prison system. A former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture declared that “any imposition of solitary confinement beyond 15 days constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” Even amongst a global consensus against the use of extreme forms of isolation, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), a division of the Department of Justice (DOJ), is expanding its use of SAMs.
Originally established in 1996 and imposed by a judge, SAMs were meant to prevent those suspected of dangerous crimes from communicating plans with outside entities that could cause death or bodily harm. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US Attorney General was given unilateral decision-making power to enforce SAMs on any prisoner who “merit[s] this repressive confinement regime.” As a result, use of SAMs increased dramatically. In November 2001, the Bureau of Prisons held 16 individuals under SAMs; as of June 8, 2017, that total climbed to 51 prisoners.
The unilateral power held by the Department of Justice is lacking in both transparency and oversight, increasing the likelihood of discrimination against “disfavored populations.” Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), documents, interviews, and public information reveal the use of SAMs to disproportionately targeting Muslim prisoners.
One such prisoner is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Kyrgyzstani-American man convicted of planting bombs with his brother at the Boston Marathon in April, 2013. Tsarnaev is currently being held at the BOP Florence ADMAX facility in Colorado. He has been placed under SAMs since August, 2013, before his murder trial was under way.
The Central Intelligence Agency has employed the “torture of isolation” to elicit “learned helplessness.” As the Center for Constitutional Rights’ “Darkest Corner” report noted, forcing inmates to await trial under SAMs “erodes defendants’ presumption of innocence and serves as a tool to coerce them into cooperating with the government and pleading guilty.” Tsarnaev’s lawyers filed a motion challenging the imposition of SAMs on their client, but their motions were denied. Tsarnaev was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty and is still under SAMs today.
For two years, WhoWhatWhy, a non-profit independent news organization, has sought access to Tsarnaev, but his repressive confinement conditions include a prohibition against speaking to the media. The WhoWhatWhy team have made several attempts to interview Tsarnaev, including sending a personal letter through the mail, as document in an April 2016 WhoWhatWhy article. The letter was returned, opened, with a notice stating, “The correspondence was not delivered to the inmate because the inmate is not approved to correspond from [sic] you.” However, James Henry, a reporter for the Centre for Research on Globalization, discovered that Peter Berg, director of Patriot Days, a Hollywood adaptation of the Boston Marathon bombing, corresponded with Tsarnaev. Berg revealed he had written “two letters to Dzhokhar in prison; he wrote one back.” No one from Berg’s production company would confirm his statement. However, the Department of Justice is known to “monitor news stories about itself.” It would be to the benefit of the DOJ, and not unusual, for it to allow Berg, who produces and promotes pro-law enforcement narrative in his movies, access as a way to control the story.
As of November 15, 2017, the story detailing Tsarnaev’s seemingly continuous draconian confinement measures and the media’s inability to speak to him is not being reported by the corporate media. Current articles in establishment media outlets about Tsarnaev discuss attempts by his aunt to appeal his death penalty decision, and President Trump’s 2013 calls for “public executions” after the Boston Marathon bombings. Tsarnaev is one of many prisoners housed in federal prisons whose Constitutionally-protected free speech and association, religious freedom, family unity, due process, and equal protection rights have been trampled by SAMs policies.
Source: James Henry, “US Department of Justice (DOJ) Continues to Block Media Access to Convicted Boston Marathon Bomber Tsarnaev,” WhoWhatWhy, October 25, 2017, https://whowhatwhy.org/2017/10/25/doj-continues-block-media-access-tsarnaev/.
Student Researcher: Rosie Humphery and Stephanie Rickher (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Advisor: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)
Editor’s Note: For prior, related coverage of this topic, by Project Censored, see “Little Guantánamos: Secretive ‘Communication Management Units’ in the US,” story #21 in Censored 2017, https://www.projectcensored.org/21-little-guantanamos-secretive-communication-management-units-us/.