At a gathering of Anarchist Black Cross groups, prison support activists raised the alarm about mistreatment of America’s prisoners: a pattern of denial of necessary medical care and compassionate release amounts to state-sanctioned torture.
Here on Firedoglake we’ve covered the death of Herman Wallace and the denial of medical treatment to whistleblower John Kiriakou, but these are just two of many victims.
The Anarchist Black Cross movement is a coalition of loosely allied groups which support prisoners. Many of them came together last month for the third annual national gathering of North American Anarchist Black Cross groups in Denver, attended by organizations from as far away as Mexico City.
They identified medical treatment of political prisoners as a key issue, and the North American Anarchist Black Cross Medical Justice Committee issued this statement at the time of Wallace’s death:
Herman was just one of many, ageing political prisoners (and prisoners of war) in the United States who are currently being denied adequate medical care and the compassionate release for which they qualify. These people are incarcerated for their opposition to actions or policies of the US government that are in violation of human rights, and as such should be afforded the protections of international law. It is the opinion of the North American Anarchist Black Cross Medical Justice Committee that these captured dissidents and combatants be granted compassionate release and dignified medical care, with respect to their age, health and sacrifice in service of legitimate struggles against oppression and exploitation. It was too little, too late for Herman; that must not be the fate of our other elder comrades.
The Geneva Conventions contain the internationally recognized standard of care for prisoners of war. The standard of care for Political Prisoners in the United States ought to be at least as sound as the Geneva Conventions. It currently is not. We have many ageing comrades struggling for the most basic health care while incarcerated. Even the Office of the Inspector General found that the existing [Bureau of Prisons] compassionate release program has been poorly managed and implemented inconsistently, likely resulting in eligible inmates not being considered for release and in terminally ill inmates dying before their requests were decided, as noted in the Department of Justice April 2013 review of the [Bureau of Prisons] compassionate release program. We cannot allow this to keep happening. What’s happened to Herman Wallace should never happen again. No one should die in prison. Least of all, perhaps, those who have spent their lives fighting oppression and injustice.
The statement goes on to detail the suffering of over a dozen current or past political prisoners from Lynne Stewart, the activist lawyer dying of cancer behind bars, to American Indian Movement member Leonard Peltier, suffering from serious health issues.
“The US concentration camps [prisons] are notorious for subjecting people to unofficial, indirect slow death and torture,” said Joseph Jordan of the Denver Anarchist Black Cross when we spoke by phone. “One of the ways is through conscious, medical neglect and profit being prioritized over human care.”
I asked Jordan what he thought my readers could do to help political prisoners. “Write, call, email anybody relevant — particularly the wardens of the prisons that these people are held in, and for federal cases the Federal Board of Pardons and the Bureau of Prisons.” The Bureau of Prisons is responsible for recommending compassionate release and, in cases like Stewart’s, will frequently deny the validity of medical claims about the prisoner’s health.
Jordan also said anyone can help raise awareness about political prisoners. “What should the average person who’s compassionate but not an ABC member do? Write to political prisoners, talk about them to your friends and coworkers. Make it an issue. Writing to a political prisoner takes just minutes and as a show of support it means a lot.”
Jordan stressed that the Anarchist Black Cross movement differs from groups like Amnesty International because it supports not just political prisoners, but those he called prisoners of war — people who actively opposed what he sees as an oppressive government and now face mistreatment behind bars. “This government is illegitimate,” he added. If our government lacks legitimacy, then its laws are also illegitimate, designed to maintain power or build the prison-industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline.
But regardless of how you feel about their actions, all prisoners deserve humane treatment.
We’re fighting not even for civil rights but for human rights. For healing to happen, especially if you’re aging, you need access to good food. You need access to clean water. You need access to sunshine and exercise and fresh air. All of those are necessary for healing — our ancestors have known this for thousands of years. It’s not officially considered torture, but that’s what it is. –Joseph Jordan
Keeping a sick prisoner like Leonard Peltier from accessing his native culture and its traditional healing methods is a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
Helping Political Prisoners