Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter Minister of Defense, and author of the recent book Defying the Tomb (available from leftwingbooks.net), has written an important expose of a new torture unit being constructed in Virginia’s Red Onion prison.
In it, Rashid details the plans for this sensory deprivation unit, where cells are to be constructed out of steel, and prisoners will be required to hand over their bedding first thing in the morning, leaving them to sit or stand of cold steel all day long. Cells will have no access to natural light, and exercise will be in a cage, only a few hours each week, with strip searches in front of other prisoners and staff enforced both before and after.
This new torture unit is to be justified by the invented problem of prisoner violence at Red Onion. As Rashid notes, quoting a prisoner whose observations were cited in a 1999 report from Human Rights Watch to the effect that, “Inmate on inmate violence virtually does not exist [at Red Onion]. Inmate on guard violence virtually does not exist here. Guard on inmate violence is high.”
Indeed, Rashid reveals how the prison authorities have been instigating white-on-black racism and violence in order to create a pretext for this new unit.
Finally, this is an important piece as it places torture at Red Onion, and at Abu Ghraib before it, in the context of post-war amerika’s investment in and development of “clean torture.” As readers of this blog may be aware, such techniques were not only developed within the united states, but in other countries too, for instance in West Germany, where they were used to devastating effect against political prisoners. (See: Staying Alive: Sensory Deprivation, Torture, and the Struggle Behind Bars on the germanguerilla website.)
In March of 2009 Dr. Atul Gawande wrote an extensive piece on isolation, clearly detailing the psychological and physical harm that it can inflict on people (reposted here). But despite the grave harm is inflicts, isolation is the perfect punishment for a self-styled “democracy”, for in leaving no physical trace it allows people to doubt that anything really horrible is going on. As such, isolation constitutes a particularly pernicious form of torture, one which is spreading throughout the prison system as inexorably as an oil slick.