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Mar 6, 2011

War, Prisons, and Torture in the US & UK
--An interview with Richard Haley

By Angola 3 News

Richard Haley is based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He has been active in Britain's anti-war movement since 2003. He is a member of the Stop the War Coalition and is currently Chair of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities.

Last December, on Human Rights Day, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities initiated a “Stop Isolation” campaign with an online statement arguing that solitary confinement is a form of torture that must be abolished. The petition states that “We call upon the countries of the world to enact legislation that prohibits long-term prisoner isolation, and prohibits the transfer of prisoners to countries where they would be at risk of such treatment. Dungeons should not be tolerated in the 21st century.”

Angola 3 News: Can you please tell us about your organization Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)? In Scotland, which communities are being criminalized?

Richard Haley: SACC began as a group of Scottish-based anti-war activists who came together in the first months of 2003 after the arrest of 7 Algerian men on terrorism charges. The arrests were accompanied by an intimidating police trawl for information throughout the Algerian community in Scotland. The arrests got spectacular publicity, leading to a surge in racist incidents against Muslims. So our initial work was to counter these things. We soon saw that there was no evidence against the Algerians. The charges were dropped at the end of the year, after the maximum delay permitted under Scottish law.

Since 9/11 the community most conspicuously criminalized in Scotland has been the Muslim community. At first the focus was on Muslim refugees and immigrants, but later it widened to include British citizens. Muslims are the targets of official suspicion and are at risk of prosecution for activities that would once have been legitimate but are now called "terrorism." Muslim institutions – mosques and various community groups – are subject to state supervision, surveillance and interference.

The legal machinery for this is a series of anti-terrorism laws introduced over the last decade. Scotland has its own devolved Parliament, but anti-terrorism legislation is the responsibility of the British Parliament. Our group joined the London-based Campaign Against Criminalising Communities in calling for the repeal of all Britain's terrorism legislation. The Stop the War Coalition–the main group in Britain opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–also shares our opposition to the attack on civil liberties. We work with other groups to campaign for prisoners of the "war on terror" throughout Britain and, in some instances, around the world.

Others besides Muslims have been criminalized. Kurdish and Tamil communities have been particular targets. The Kurdish separatist group PKK and the Tamil separatist group LTTE ("Tamil Tigers") are both banned under anti-terrorism legislation, although neither has carried out armed actions outside its homeland. Both groups enjoy wide sympathy in their respective communities in Britain, and community political and social activities reflect that. The banning of the groups has an effect on all that activity.

A3N: Along with focusing on prisons, the SACC website spotlights a range of issues, including the war being waged against Iraq by the US and UK. How do these two issues (prisons and war) relate to each other?

RH: The arrests of the Algerian men in Scotland occurred while the British Government was getting ready to join the US in its invasion of Iraq. Terrorism cases were being massaged or manufactured to create a heightened fear of terrorism and make people more receptive to the argument that the risk of a link between terrorists and Saddam Hussein's regime made the invasion of Iraq necessary.

Besides the arrests in Scotland, a number of Algerian men were arrested on suspicion of involvement in a plot to disseminate ricin poison. The supposed discovery of ricin was announced by the Metropolitan Police in January 2003. Prime Minister Tony Blair told a meeting of British ambassadors that the danger was "present and real" and that its potential was "huge." US Secretary of State Colin Powell included the discovery in his 6 February presentation to the UN Security Council in which he set out the US case for war with Iraq. But by the time that Tony Blair and Colin Powell made their statements, the British Government's Porton Down laboratory had already established that no ricin had been found. This wasn't widely known until the ricin case came to trial in 2005. Four of the five accused were acquitted on all charges; one man was found guilty of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. The story of the ricin plot is told in the book Ricin! by Lawrence Archer and Fiona Bawdon (Pluto Press, 2010).

The danger of terrorism, coupled with the hypothetical possibility of a link to the Iraqi regime, formed part of the British Government's case to Parliament in the crucial March 2003 debate that authorized the invasion of Iraq. Terrorism couldn't provide a legal justification for the war, but it went a long way towards persuading MPs to acquiesce in the flimsy legal justifications that were offered.

There are structural links between prisons and war. The so-called "war on terror" is at the moment focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than Iraq. Whatever its location, it is a war for resources and power. It is imperialist and racist and necessarily involves the denial of human rights. Since Britain is a multi-ethnic country and our population has religious, cultural and family ties to the theatres of war, the denial of rights necessarily extends to Britain. Prison walls obstruct solidarity and promote fear.

A3N: Looking at the “Stop Isolation” statement published online last December, why did SACC choose to focus on the issue of solitary confinement at this present time? As signatures collect, will you be submitting it to anyone in the form of a petition?

RH: We call "Stop Isolation" a statement rather than a petition because it isn't particularly directed towards being handed in somewhere. It is available on the internet for anyone – government or activist – to see. We may in due course post a copy to the justice ministers of a selection of countries. But we intend the statement to stand for as long as necessary as a rallying point for people who want to work together while putting pressure on their governments to end long-term prisoner isolation. "Stop Isolation" is independent of other campaigns that SACC supports. We hope to keep expanding the website to include more news and background from around the world.

We launched "Stop Isolation" because the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is considering the appeals of four British citizens--Babar Ahmad, Syed Tahla Ahsan, Haroon Rashid Aswat, and Abu Hamza--against extradition to the US to face terrorism charges. The court is considering whether the length of the sentences the men may face and the risk of long-term isolation at ADX Florence (for three of the men) would breach their right under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights not to "be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." The court's long-delayed judgment is expected in the next few months. It will be a landmark in the development of human rights law.

The ECHR is the last legal recourse for human rights appeals by people in the 47 member states of the Council of Europe--a grouping that is wider and distinct from the European Union.

If the court blocks the men's extradition it will send a signal to the US that the harshness of the US penal system is damaging its international relations. On the other hand, a ruling in favor of extradition could open the door to harsher prison conditions in Europe. In either case the challenge to human rights campaigners will be the same--we will need a vigorous international campaign against prisoner isolation.

The charges against the four men are different, but all the cases are marred by a range of worrying issues, in addition to the matters that the ECHR has agreed to consider. Some of the problems stem from Britain's Extradition Act 2003, which allows people to be extradited to the US without any need for prima facie evidence to be presented. US lawmakers have wisely failed to ratify the treaty that would create reciprocal arrangements for extradition from the US to Britain. Some of the British opposition to the Extradition Act has stressed the loss of sovereignty that it entails and the lack of balance created by the US position. But sovereignty and balance aren't the real issues. The real problem is that evidence-free extradition promotes injustice. For more background, see lawyer Gareth Peirce's article in the London Review of Books.

A3N: Can you tell us more about these four British citizens?

RH: Two of the men - Babar Ahmad and Syed Tahla Ahsan – have become particular friends of SACC over the years that it has taken for their appeals to reach the ECHR. Their cases are closely linked to one another. They relate to the men's alleged support – largely by means of the internet – for groups in Chechnya and Afghanistan over the period 1997-2004. The offences were all allegedly committed while the men were in Britain. Talha Ahsan has never visited the US. The evidence against the men has never been presented to a British court. Both men say that they should be tried in Britain. British prosecutors say they don't have enough evidence to do so.

Babar Ahmad has become very widely known amongst Muslims in Britain. His arrest marked the moment when British Muslims, as well as refugees and immigrants, began to feel threatened by the state. Babar was subjected to a serious and unprovoked assault by police officers during and after his initial arrest at his London home in December 2003. Much later (while in jail) he won a lawsuit against the police over his ill-treatment. He was released without charge six days after his initial arrest, but was arrested again 8 months later on an extradition request from the US. He has been held in high-security jails ever since. There is more information on his case on the website and on the SACC website.

Talha Ahsan was arrested in London in July 2006 following an extradition request from the US and has been held in high-security jails ever since. The cases against both Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan rely on evidence seized by British police during their violent raid on Babar Ahmad's home, and then passed to the US.

A booklet entitled This be the Answer: Prison Poems by Talha Ahsan, has just been published and includes more background about his case. The Free Talha Ahsan website ( will be launched shortly.

If the four men are sent to the US, they are sure to be accompanied by damaging publicity. They will need all the support they can get if they are to stand a chance of a fair trial. Readers can find contact details for Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan on the SACC website. I'm sure that both men would be delighted to receive letters from the US.

We also need the support of US readers for our campaign against prisoner isolation. Spread the word about the "Stop Isolation" statement and website. Encourage people to add their names to the statement. Use it when campaigning for individual prisoners. Send "Stop Isolation" any news that might be of interest (contact details here). Tell your representatives on Capitol Hill about it. The statement is supported by senior legal and human rights figures around the world. Their support shows that the US is out of step with international best practice on this issue.

A3N: Why do you think that the use of solitary confinement is so widespread? Why do governments choose to use it as a form of punishment?

RH: Because they can.

Because prison authorities often believe that it is absolutely necessary to make prisoners conform, whatever the human cost.

Because solitary confinement is imposed on people who are in prison and lack easy access to legal remedy or public support.

Torturers often prefer methods that don't leave obvious marks. Solitary confinement is one such method. It is often thought to be near the margin of the practices prohibited under human rights law. So governments can use it to flex their muscles and to stimulate reactionary sentiment without colliding with international law and its enforcement mechanisms. I hope the "Stop Isolation" statement will make that harder to do.

A3N: Why do you think torture itself is a tactic used by governments?

RH: Anti-torture campaigners often say that torture doesn't work. They mean that torture doesn't yield reliable information, and of course they are right. But torture has worked very well for thousands of years to help rulers dominate the ruled. The recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt happened when torture stopped working. Our job is to stop torture working. Eradicating it will then be easy.

A3N: How often is solitary used in Europe? How does the European use of solitary contrast with how the US uses it?

RH: Prison Governors in Scotland may authorize segregation for a maximum of 72 hours. The period can be extended for a month at a time by Scottish Ministers or by officials to whom ministers delegate responsibility.

A lawsuit brought by a group of prisoners over their solitary confinement came to court in 2004. There were at that time 63 prisoners in segregation units in Scotland out of a prison population of a little under 7000. The litigants complained of episodes of segregation that had in some cases occurred some years previously. Several of them had been placed in segregation cells for periods of around five months. Another prisoner--not one of these bringing the lawsuit--was known at that time to have been in solitary for 18 months.

The Scottish Prison Service settled with the prisoners in 2009. Regrettably, the service insisted that it had settled "purely on economic grounds" and that it did not accept that the segregation of the prisoners had been unlawful. An inspection of Perth prison in 2009 found that 2 prisoners had been held in segregation for "more than a month." A 2007 inspection of Kilmarnock Prison found that one prisoner had been in segregation for 5 months and another for 3 months. Inspections of some other Scottish prisons in recent years have reported that segregation cells were rarely used.

In England and Wales punitive solitary confinement can be imposed on adults for a maximum of 28 days. Prisoners can be segregated without time limit to preserve "good order and discipline" or for their own protection. Their segregation is subject to frequent review.

The use of solitary confinement varies across Europe. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has wide powers to visit and inspect prisons in the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. It says that "all forms of solitary confinement should be as short as possible." Some European states have chosen not to publish the CPT's reports on their country, as is their right. For example, no reports on CPT visits to the Russian Federation have ever been published.

Since 1999, Turkey has been holding PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in a specially built prison on the island of Imrali. For 10 years he was its sole inmate. The CPT visited the prison in 2007 and subsequently recommended that Öcalan should "be integrated into a setting where contacts with other inmates and a wider range of activities are possible." In November 2009 the Turkish authorities transferred several other prisoners to Imrali to alleviate Öcalan's isolation. Turkey has a very poor human rights record and Öcalan is its most notorious prisoner; it nevertheless felt unable to maintain his isolation.

Solitary confinement for periods of several years or more is very rare in Europe. Solitary confinement for periods of many months is generally unusual. Supermax-style conditions are almost certainly very rare or absent.

The use of solitary confinement is much more restricted by judicial process and legally-empowered monitoring in Europe than in the US. But I know of no Europe-wide survey of solitary confinement, so the picture of European practice is a very tentative and provisional one.

A3N: What strategies are European activists using to influence policy, that might be useful in the US?

RH: I think that European activists may have more to learn from US activists than vice versa. From here, it looks as if prison activism in the US is much wider, deeper and more politicized in the US than in Britain.

Excellent work is being done here by Paddy Hill and John McManus at Miscarriages of Justice Organisation Scotland. Paddy Hill is one of the Birmingham 6. He spent 16 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of the 1974 Irish Republican bombings in Birmingham.

Excellent work is also being done by Cage Prisoners. Former Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg is one of its directors.

A3N: With recent revelations that Bradley Manning is also a citizen of the UK, SACC is calling for the British government to intervene. Can you please tell us more about this? Has there been a response yet from the British government?

RH: It turns out that Bradley Manning's mother is Welsh, so he is a British citizen as well as a US citizen. Britain normally offers only informal help to dual nationals detained in the country of their other nationality, but it makes formal representations where there are human rights issues. There are obviously human rights concerns for Bradley Manning, but the British government has so far given no help. A number of Members of Parliament have told constituents that they are concerned over this, but they haven't yet had a response from the Government. British Members of the European Parliament have also expressed an interest. So we'll be trying to keep the pressure up. There is more information on the "UK Friends of Bradley Manning" website.

If the allegations against Bradley Manning are true, we are indebted to him for helping to reveal what the war in Iraq was really like. Whether the allegations are true or not, his isolation in Quantico Brig puts him under pressure to incriminate himself and Julian Assange.

Manning and Assange both need support; support for either of them will make both stronger. Assange is pinned down dealing with allegations of sex crimes in Sweden. The US authorities are meanwhile trying to find a formula that will let them charge him without threatening the traditional media. The worldwide media have helped the US government tremendously by distancing themselves from Assange. Journalists who collude in this should be ashamed of themselves.

Britain's extradition court has unsurprisingly ducked the chance to see justice done over Sweden's request for Assange to be extradited there. The Chief Magistrate, Howard Riddle, ruled on 24 February that the extradition can go ahead. To rule otherwise wouldn't just have meant standing in the path of the juggernaut bearing down on Wikileaks. It would also have shone a spotlight on the operation of the already-controversial European Arrest Warrant. The warrants came into effect in August 2003 and allow extradition with minimal legal oversight between the various radically different jurisdictions within the European Union. Like the arrangements for extradition from Britain to the US, the system is an open invitation to injustice.

Riddle has accepted that Assange will be held incommunicado in prison in Sweden and will then be interrogated, held without bail and eventually tried in secret. But he held that these facts should not stand in the way of Assange's extradition. Assange's lawyer Mark Stephens says that, though Sweden's penal system has some progressive features, the country is a "human rights black spot in relation to solitary confinement." Stephens argues that extradition proceedings should not be a rubber-stamp but should instead be a tool to "improve the quality of justice throughout Europe" and eliminate "human rights blind spots." This is exactly the approach that SACC has long been advocating.

If the larger issues of Julian Assange's case are to be dealt with, it will be in a more elevated forum than the extradition court. Assange will appeal to the High Court and, if unsuccessful, may then appeal to Britain's Supreme Court and then to the European Court of Human Rights. Even these courts are only likely to stand up for justice and against state interests if public opinion demands it.

Riddle said in his 24 February ruling: "sometimes public comment damages the cause more than it helps." He was referring to comments made on the steps of the court last year by Assange's lawyer. Assange's legal team may get a rough ride. If they do, it won't be the first time that Britain's legal establishment has tried to keep an inconvenient lawyer quiet. In 2006, Scottish lawyer Aamer Anwar was accused of contempt of court after speaking out against the conviction of his client Mohammed Atif Siddique on terrorism charges. Campaigners rallied in Anwar's support, the contempt charges were thrown out by three high court judges and the appeal court in Edinburgh eventually ruled that Siddique had suffered a miscarriage of justice. People must be ready to give Julian Assange's lawyers the same sort of robust support that we in Scotland gave to Aamer Anwar.

Amy Jeffress, the US justice department's attaché to the American embassy in London, has dismissed concerns that Julian Assange could be at risk of detention at Guantánamo Bay if re-extradited from Sweden to the US. She told the BBC radio program Law in Action: "The President, of course, has decided to close Guantánamo Bay and so no one is going to Guantánamo Bay and that claim is baseless."

But Obama's deadline for closing Guantánamo expired over a year ago. His handling of the issue has shown the whole world that the White House has neither the will nor the authority to guarantee respect for human rights in the United States.

A3N: Anything else to add?

RH: The world is shrinking. Law-enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world cooperate closely on matters they say are related to terrorism. They use extradition, rendition and the opportunistic torture of people who travel to countries whose governments can get away with it. Too often, the human rights standards that count are the lowest ones. We need to work together so that we all benefit instead from the highest standards.

--Angola 3 News is a project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.

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Posted: Mar 6, 2011 9:52pm
Mar 6, 2011
Watch the videos here:

Dylcia and Cisco on Panthers and Independistas
--SF8 Hearing on March 2



By Kiilu Nyasha and Angola 3 News



This February 26, 2011 episode of Freedom is a Constant Struggle features Dylcia Pagan and Francisco Torres.



Dylcia Pagan is a Puerto Rican freedom fighter and Independista, who spent nearly 20 years in Federal prisons on charges of seditious conspiracy for her role in the underground wing of the Puerto Rican independence movement. One of 11 Puerto Rican political prisoners granted clemency in 1999 by President Clinton, she was paroled to Puerto Rico, where she has continued to struggle against U.S. colonialism nonviolently. Born and raised in New York City, Dylcia studied psychology, political science, and Puerto Rican studies at Brooklyn College where she founded the Puerto Rican Students Union. Her culture and politics are expressed through painting, ceramics, poetry, writings, and film.



She has participated in the production of a video about her life and compañeros in the struggle; and while in prison, she helped direct a documentary about Puerto Rican Women Prisoners of War. Her biography has been published in Puerto Rican Women: A History of Oppression and Resistance and she appears in the new film Machetero (view a clip with Dylcia here).



Francisco Torres (Cisco), 58, of New York City, was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City. He is a Vietnam Veteran who fought for the grievances of Black and Latino soldiers upon his return to the states. A former Black Panther, he has been a community activist since his discharge from the military in 1969. Cisco continues to work with troubled youth in his Queens community.



Cisco is the last of the San Francisco Eight to still be facing charges. As Cisco discusses in this interview, he had an evidentiary hearing scheduled for March 2, 2011. However, three days after the interview, on February 28, this hearing was canceled. A short update published on the SF8 website states: "An evidentiary hearing had been planned to take up the question of wiretaps, whose existence had long been denied by the prosecution. It now appears that the question may be settled without a hearing. Details to be posted here as soon as available...Stay tuned for future court dates." For the latest developments in the case and what you can do to help, please go to



--This episode of Freedom is a Constant Struggle is a collaborative project by Kiilu Nyasha and Angola 3 News.

Kiilu Nyasha is a San Francisco-based journalist and former member of the Black Panther Party. Through the end of 2009, Kiilu hosted a weekly TV program, "Freedom Is A Constant Struggle," on SF Live, and many of her shows are archived at Kiilu also writes for several publications, including the SF Bay View Newspaper and Also an accomplished radio programmer, she has worked for KPFA (Berkeley), SF Liberation Radio, Free Radio Berkeley, and KPOO in SF.


Angola 3 News is a project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.

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Posted: Mar 6, 2011 9:46pm
Feb 24, 2011

Watch the video here.

Freedom is a Constant Struggle TV show, Black August 22, 2008.

Luis Bato Talamantez and Willie Sundiata Tate were in the so-called Adjustment Center (lockup!) in San Quentin on Black August 21, 1971, the day their/our comrade George Lester Jackson was assassinated by prison guards in what we believe was a set-up by the Administration.

Bato and Sundi were comrades who became known as The San Quentin Six, and are currently members of All of Us or None. They both did time in California juvenile and adult prisons where they got to know Comrade George, became politicized, and turned their lives around. Bato also works with the ANSWER Coalition and California Prison Focus. They continue to advocate for equal justice, freedom for political prisoners, and equal opportunities for ex-prisoners upon release.

----Kiilu Nyasha is a San Francisco-based journalist and former member of the Black Panther Party. Through the end of 2009, Kiilu hosted a weekly TV program, "Freedom Is A Constant Struggle," on SF Live, and many of her shows are archived at

Kiilu also writes for several publications, including the SF Bay View Newspaper and Also an accomplished radio programmer, she has worked for KPFA (Berkeley), SF Liberation Radio, Free Radio Berkeley, and KPOO in SF.

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Posted: Feb 24, 2011 1:11pm
Jan 8, 2010

Below is an article written today by Mother Jones writer James Ridgeway that is featured at a brand new website focusing on the issue of solitary confinement in prisons.

The Solitary Watch News site ( is part of an emerging project called Solitary Watch, an innovative public web site aimed at bringing this issue out of the shadows and into the light of the public square. The mission of Solitary Watch is to provide the public—as well as practicing attorneys, legal scholars, law enforcement and corrections officers, policymakers, educators, advocates, and prisoners–with the first comprehensive source of information on solitary confinement in the United States.



Please help spread the word about this important new website!



The Mark of Cain: God and Man at Angola Prison


By James Ridgeway


January 7, 2010


The Associated Presstoday put out a laudatory piece on Warden Burl Cain’s program of Christian education at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. The article, which was picked up by the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and dozens of other publications, is sure to advance Cain’s reputation as a great prison reformer.


The AP piece depicts Angola as a onetime den of violence and despair that has been transformed by Cain into a safe and orderly community where “everyone has a job” and where “students crowd into classrooms to study toward a college degree.” The prison’s bloody past, Cain tells the AP, was “all because of a lack of hope”–a situation the warden has treated with the dual remedy of education and redemption, in part through a degree program in Christian Ministry.  


There’s another side to this story, of course, and it’s a whole lot grimmer than the AP piece would suggest. More than 90 percent of the 5,200 men Angola will die there, thanks to the states harsh sentencing policies. Much of the work on the 18,000-acre former slave plantationconsists of backbreaking labor in the cotton, corn, and soybean fields, presided over by armed guards on horseback. Some inmates do not work at all because they are kept in isolation in their cells, in the prison’s notorious Camp J disciplinary unit or in long-term solitary confinement. (Among Angola’s most widely known prisoners are former Black Panthers Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, members of the Angola 3, who have been in solitary for more than 37 years.)


An inmate’s fate at Angola depends upon how he measures up to the warden’s standards, which are rooted firmly in his personal religious dogma. Cain believes that there is only one path toward rehabilitation, and it runs through Christian redemption. (According to Herman Wallace, Cain has at least once offered to release him from solitary if he renounced his political beliefs and accepted Jesus Christ as his savior.)


“The warden says it takes good food, good medicine, good prayin’ and good playin’ to have a good prison,” an assistant warden told Truthout in 2008, “Angola has all these.” To make sure there is ample opportunity for “good prayin’,” Cain has raised funds to construct 18 Christian chapels on the prison’s grounds. (One of several recent corruption charges against Cain involved shaking down a contractorfor a donation to the prison chapel fund.) 


Likewise, inmates at Angola can gain access to higher education only by embracing Cain’s brand of Christianity.  According to the prison’s own web site, while Angola offers literacy and GED classes and technical training in things like auto mechanics, horticulture, and welding, the only college degree program it offers is in Christian Ministry from the New Orleans Baptist Seminary. Only a few hundred prisoners are admitted to his program. 


The American Civil Liberties Union has filed lawsuits challenging some of Angola’s policies as constitutional violations of the prisoners’ freedom of religion; in one statement, the ACLU remarked: “Cain’s job is to be Warden of Angola, not the Chaplain of Angola.” But even some Christians would find Burl Cain’s vision of both human and divine justice unsavory.


A glowing 2008 article in the Baptist Presspraised Cain for ”govern[ing] the massive prison on the Mississippi River delta with an iron fist and an even stronger love for Jesus.” The iron fist includes Cain’s determination to keep certain “dangerous” prisoners in permanent lockdown, a condition that many have denouced as torture. Cain also presides over the state’s executions. The Baptist Press article noted Cain’s special dedication to delivering souls from the death chamber into the hands of Christ. When he supervised his first execution as warden, Cain said, “I didn’t share Jesus” with the condemned man, and as he received the lethal injection, “I felt him go to hell as I held his hand.” As Cain tells it, “I decided that night I would never again put someone to death without telling him about his soul and about Jesus.”


In fact, Cain will get an opportunity to put his mission into practice a few hours from now, when the state of Lousiana carries out its first executionin eight years, in the death chamber at Angola prison.


This post was written in collaboration with Jean Casella. Full disclosure: We have written several articles about the Angola 3 for Mother Jones. Last year I also requested permission to  interview Burl Cain, as well as Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, and to  visit Angola; all requests were denied by the Louisiana Department of Corrections.

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Posted: Jan 8, 2010 1:19pm
Jan 4, 2010

Southern Injustice: Herman Wallace of the Angola 3

By James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

For the better part of four decades, Victory Wallace, 70, has made a monthly trip from New Orleans to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola to visit her brother Herman, who just turned 68. The 140-mile journey has shades of Heart of Darkness, following the course of the Mississippi River to a remote prison colony from which most inmates never return. At the dark heart of this former slave plantation, Herman Wallace has lived most of the past 37 years in solitary confinement, imprisoned alone for 23 hours a day in a 6-by-9-foot cell.

When Herman was moved in the spring of 2009 from Angola to Hunt Correctional Center near Baton Rouge, Vickie's trip got a bit shorter. But what she found when she arrived on her most recent visit was even worse than usual. Because of a disciplinary infraction, Herman had been placed in "extended administrative lockdown." That meant Vickie was denied a contact visit, and was permitted to see her brother only through a glass partition as they spoke over a telephone. His hands were shackled to the table. (Other recent visitors reported that the shackles made it hard for him to hold the phone to his ear, while his hearing loss made communication over the telephone difficult.) Herman complained to Vickie that he was cold, and she thought that he had lost weight. His spirits, she said, were not the best.

For years, Herman Wallace's hopes have ridden on two cases that are inching their way through the courts—one challenging his conviction, the other challenging his long-term solitary confinement. Now, after a decade of starts and stops, obstacles and delays, both cases are advancing toward conclusions that will determine how he spends what's left of his life.

With the exception of a few brief intervals, Wallace has been living in lockdown since 1972, when he was accused of murdering a young Angola prison guard. Along with another inmate named Albert Woodfox, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life without parole. Wallace, Woodfox, and a third longtime prisoner called Robert King—who are known as the Angola 3—are also plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit alleging that their unparalleled time in solitary violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The case [1]—which could potentially affect the estimated 25,000 American prisoners living in long-term lockdown—is expected to come to trial in the US District Court in Baton Rouge in early 2010.

Since 1990, Wallace has also been appealing his criminal conviction in the Louisiana state courts. He believes that he was targeted for the guard's murder because of his involvement in Angola's chapter of the Black Panther Party, which had been organizing against conditions in what was then known as "the bloodiest prison in the South." Wallace contends that the prosecution's witnesses—all of them fellow Angola prisoners—were coached, bribed, coerced, or threatened into giving false testimony against him by prison employees bent on revenge. "If they could have hung and burned the guys involved they would have," one inmate witness later told Wallace's lawyers. "But there was too much light on the situation." Documents and testimony that have surfaced since the trial show that prosecutors knew a good part of their case was unreliable or manufactured. The state's own judicial commissioner, assigned to study the case in 2006, recommended that Wallace's conviction be overturned. Even the prison guard's widow has publicly stated that she now doubts [2] the guilt of the two men convicted of her husband's murder, and still wants to see his killers brought to justice. But the Louisiana courts, one after another, have rejected his appeal, providing no reasons for their decisions.

Now, Wallace has turned to the federal courts. On December 4, he filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus—basically, a plea for a reversal of his wrongful conviction. It is his last chance to win a new trial, and possibly his freedom. On his side are a team of skilled pro-bono attorneys who have assembled a brief full of evidence that was hidden or suppressed 35 years ago during his original trial. Against him is an increasingly conservative federal court system, along with two of the most powerful figures in Louisiana criminal justice: Angola's famous warden, Burl Cain, and the state's ambitious attorney general, James "Buddy" Caldwell, both of whom appear determined to fight to the bitter end to ensure that Herman Wallace never again sees the light of day.

The incident that condemned Herman Wallace to a life in lockdown took place at a particularly explosive time in Angola's notoriously violent history. In the early 1970s, Louisiana's 5,000-man penitentiary was the nation's largest prison; it was also notorious for its high rates of murder, rape, and assault. The former slave plantation's 18,000 acres were farmed by prisoners working up to 96 hours a week, overseen by armed inmate guards, known as "trusties." The trusties also oversaw gambling, drug-dealing, and a monstrous system of sexual slavery—sanctioned by some of the all-white corrections officers, who were referred to by staff and inmates alike as "freemen."

"Angola in those days was life and death, buying and selling people, and the officers knew it was happening," Howard Baker, a prisoner who testified at Wallace's trial, stated in a subsequent affidavit. "There was a goon squad of guards. If they came after you, you could get anything from a beating to being killed, and they'd call it being killed by trying to escape." In addition, Baker said, "Physical conditions were about as bad as you can get: hot, dirty, overcrowded. Weapons were everywhere. You could shake down for weapons one night and have just as many the next. I saw as many as four stabbings a week, week after week."

It was also a time of simmering tensions between longtime employees—many of whom had grown up in the staff community on the prison's grounds—and Angola's new "reformist" leadership. A few years earlier, Warden C. Murray Henderson and Deputy Warden Lloyd Hoyle had been brought in from out of state to "clean up Angola." As Wallace's habeas petition states:

Their arrival at Angola disrupted [the Louisiana State Penitentiary's] existing leadership, most of whom had worked their way up the ranks at Angola. Associate Warden Hayden Dees and the old-guard leadership notably resisted their reform efforts, particularly those aimed at ending racial segregation and those directed at according inmates in extended lockdown, known as CCR (closed cell restriction), with due process. Associate Warden Dees in particular believed that "a certain type of militant or revolutionary inmate, maybe even a communist type," should remain under lockdown conditions at all times; he wanted nothing to do with documenting decisions about who went into lockdown and for how long in compliance with federal court requirements.

Among the "militant" inmates were Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, both serving time for armed robbery. After they arrived at Angola they became active members of the prison's chapter of the Black Panther Party. This cadre of inmates organized petitions and hunger strikes to protest the horrendous conditions at the prison, and helped new inmates, known as "fresh fish," protect themselves from sexual assault and enslavement. For their efforts, some of the Panthers were placed in solitary confinement to suppress what was viewed as a threat to prison authority.

On April 17, 1972, 23-year-old guard Brent Miller was found in front of an inmate dormitory, stabbed 32 times. Investigators initially had no suspects, but they soon zeroed in on the activists. In a written description [3] [PDF] of his case, Wallace stated that Hayden Dees, the associate warden, "went well out of his way to tie us in with the death for his own political gain. He claimed that Henderson and Hoyle were responsible for Miller's death by releasing the 'militants' (he linked me and Woodfox to those released)."

Statements from Henderson and Hoyle confirm that some of the guards considered them complicit in the killing. Three days later, Lloyd Hoyle, the deputy warden, was called from home to a meeting of staff members, who accused him of turning loose Miller's murderers. Hoyle was assaulted and pushed through a plate glass door, and nearly bled to death before one of the guards decided to drive him to the hospital.

Wallace was thrown into lockdown the day of Brent Miller's murder. Within a few days, officials had obtained the evidence they needed to charge Wallace and three other so-called "militants"—Woodfox, Chester Jackson, and Gilbert Montegut—with the crime. They were indicted by an all-white, all-male grand jury in nearby St. Francisville, Louisiana, which was home to many prison staff, their families, and friends.

A river town near the Mississippi border, St. Francisville proudly advertises itself as plantation country. It was also Klan country, and until the civil rights movement and the FBI arrived in the early 1960s, no African American had registered to vote in the parish in more than 60 years. The defendants in the Miller case contested the indictment on the grounds that women and blacks had been systematically excluded from the jury pool. They were subsequently re-indicted by another grand jury, chosen through "the same or substantially the same grand jury selection procedures," according to Wallace's current brief.

Albert Woodfox was convicted of Miller's murder in a separate trial in 1973. After being granted a change of venue, the three remaining defendants—Wallace, Jackson, and Montegut—stood trial in East Baton Rouge in January 1974—before yet another all-white, all-male jury.
The prosecutors in the case presented no physical evidence to tie the three men to the crime. Although bloody fingerprints had been found near the guard's body, they matched none of the defendants'. According to evidence presented in Wallace's petition, no effort was made to match them to any of the 5,000 other inmate prints on file. A bloody knife, likewise, could not be connected to any of the men on trial. The evidence against them consisted entirely of testimony by other Angola prisoners obtained under highly dubious circumstances.

The prosecution's star witness was Hezekiah Brown, whose eyewitness testimony was indispensible to its case. An aging prisoner serving a life sentence for aggravated rape, Brown said that he had been in the dormitory on the morning of Brent Miller's death, and had seen the defendants stab the guard repeatedly. Former Angola prisoners have said in interviews that Brown was a notorious snitch. But it would be nearly 25 years before proof emerged [4] showing just what happened behind the scenes to secure his testimony.

In 1998, lawyers for Wallace's co-defendant, Albert Woodfox, succeeded in obtaining previously suppressed witness statements, taped interviews, and other documents from the murder investigation carried out by prison officials, the county sheriff's office, and local prosecutors. These materials, supplemented by testimony by Warden Henderson and others, show that Hezekiah Brown was encouraged, if not coerced, to identify the prisoners already chosen as suspects. Henderson admitted he promised to seek a pardon for the lifer if Brown helped them "crack the case." A series of letters to judges, pardon board members, and the secretary of corrections shows that Warden Henderson kept his word, though it would be more than 10 years before Brown's pardon came through. In the meantime, Brown benefitted from an array of special favors, including reassignment to a private room at the low-security "dog pen" where the prison's bloodhounds were trained and a carton of cigarettes, the crucial prison currency, every week.

Another inmate witness, Joseph Richey, placed Wallace and the others at the scene of the crime; he was later found to be a schizophrenic who was heavily medicated with Thorazine. After the trial, Richey was transferred to a plum job at the governor's mansion and given weekend furloughs (during which he robbed several banks). Previously suppressed documents, obtained through the discovery process by Albert Woodfox's lawyers in 1998, show that Angola officials didn't believe Richey had seen anything. The state possessed these documents at the time of Wallace's trial, and presented his possibly perjured testimony nonetheless.

Howard Baker, yet another prisoner who testified at Wallace's trial, has since sworn an affidavit completely recanting his testimony. Baker had initially been a suspect in Miller's murder, and may have been seeking to protect himself. In the affidavit, Baker states:

So I looked at the situation like this, I got 60 something years, and I got a chance to help myself – so I was going to do something to help me get out of this cesspool….So, I gave a statement on 10/16/72, to Warden Dees, which was a lie. And my testimony based on that statement was a lie. I really thought this would help me because Dees told me my statement would get my sentence commuted….It was all over the penitentiary that they [Wallace and Woodfox] were the ones that administration thought was involved. So I gave a statement.

The state played its ace-in-the-hole in the middle of the trial, when one of the four co-defendants walked in after a recess and sat down at the prosecution's table. Chester Jackson had turned state's witness, and would now testify against the others. The defense attorney, Charles Garretson, later testified that he "was in a complete state of shock…it took everything I could glean together to maintain professionalism and sanity and intelligence to go forward after this lunch break." The court gave him less than 30 minutes to prepare to cross-examine his own former client. Although he denied it on the stand, Jackson had clearly cut a deal; shortly after the trial, he would plead guilty to manslaughter. Garretson later said that he felt he was "the only one in the courthouse that didn't know this. I felt that—I know all the deputies knew it. I felt the judge knew it."

These allegations of widespread and deliberate suppression of evidence form the core of Herman Wallace's current appeal. His habeas petition states, "Mr. Wallace's defense strategy was to show that the State's inmate witnesses must be either mistaken or lying. Although the State possessed precisely the information Mr. Wallace's defense counsel sought—material which would show that the State's witnesses lacked credibility and the State's prosecution lacked integrity—the State disclosed none of it." This withholding of evidence, Wallace says, violated his constitutional right to due process.

Wallace's remaining co-defendant, Gilbert Montegut, had a prison guard to confirm his alibi, and was acquitted. Herman Wallace was convicted of the murder. His conviction happened to fall during a brief period when the Supreme Court had effectively struck down capital punishment—had it come at any other time, Wallace would likely have received a death sentence. Instead, he got life without parole and was placed in lockdown, along with Woodfox. The reason given for their confinement in solitary was the nature of the crime—the murder of a guard, which rendered them a threat to others in the prison community. Both Wallace and Woodfox remain there, ostensibly on the same grounds, 35 years later.

If the story of Herman Wallace's trial reads like a study in Southern justice, its sequel shows what has changed in Louisiana in the intervening decades—and what has remained the same. Wallace and Woodfox now have a small legion of active supporters and an impressive team of lawyers renowned for their death penalty appeals, including Nick Trenticosta, director of the Center for Equal Justice, in New Orleans, and George Kendall at the pro bono unit of Squire Sanders & Dempsey in New York. But even good lawyers can't vitiate the Louisiana justice system's apparent determination to keep Wallace and Woodfox locked up and locked down, for reasons that appear to go far beyond the facts of the 1972 murder of Brent Miller.

The two men believe that they were originally targeted for the murder because their political beliefs and activism represented a threat to the absolute power of prison authorities. Statements from Angola's current warden, Burl Cain, suggest they are being kept permanently in solitary for much the same reason. Cain has been widely celebrated [5] for "transforming" Angola, largely through the institution of Christian "moral rehabilitation," which he sees as the only path to redemption for the sinners in his charge. There is no room, either in Cain's worldview or on his prison plantation, for people who question authority like Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox have.

In a 2008 deposition, Cain declared, "The prison operates with one authentic authoritarian figure, the warden and the rule book." He also said that Woodfox's lack of deference made him a dangerous man: "The thing about him is that he wants to demonstrate. He wants to organize. He wants to be defiant. He wants to show to others that he is powerful and strong."

Woodfox's lawyers have pointed out that he had no record of violence and few disciplinary infractions in the past 20 years. They documented a similar record for Wallace in a 2006 deposition [6] [PDF]: "Mr. Wallace's most recent disciplinary report for institutional violence occurred some 22 years ago," it said, and in recent years, Wallace's handful of infractions included "possessing handmade earrings and a poem, 'A Defying Voice'"; "wearing a handmade necklace with a black fist"; and "possessing the publication, It's About Time, a Black Panther publication 16 containing articles/photos on the Angola three, characterized as, quote, 'racist literature' by security personnel." His most recent disciplinary report "was December 2005, when he was found in the possession of excess number of postage stamps, for which he received thirty days cell confinement."

But Cain believes "It's not a matter of write-ups. It's a matter of attitude and what you are." And to Cain, what Woodfox and Wallace are and will always be is Black Panthers. Associate Warden Hayden Dees previously said that "a certain type of militant or revolutionary inmate, maybe even a communist type" was dangerous enough to be kept in permanent lockdown. In 2008, Cain said that Woodfox belongs in solitary because "I still know that he is still trying to practice Black Pantherism, and I still would not want him walking around my prison because he would organize the young new inmates. I would have me all kind of problems, more than I could stand, and I would have the blacks chasing after them."

Wallace says [7] that Cain at least once offered to release the two men into the general population if they renounced their political views and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. He refused. Cain declared that "Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace is locked in time with that Black Panther revolutionary actions they were doing way back when…And that's still their motive and that's still their goal. And from that, there's been no rehabilitation."

Louisiana's attorney general, Buddy Caldwell, also appears determined to keep the two men in prison at all costs—a vow that he will likely try to uphold even if Wallace's case succeeds in federal court. Caldwell's resolve has already been tested in the case of Woodfox: When a federal judge overturned Woodfox's conviction in 2008 and ordered him released on bail, the attorney general sprang into action—filing an emergency motion to keep him behind bars, sending fearmongering emails to the community where Woodfox was planning to stay with his niece, and telling the press that he was "the most dangerous person on the planet." Persuaded by Caldwell's plea and Cain's testimony about his dangerous nature, the federal appeals court granted the motion and denied Woodfox bail; he remains in lockdown, awaiting his appeal. In a recent letter, Wallace wrote of Caldwell, "Like most prosecutors, he will never admit he made a mistake, he's fighting to keep us imprisoned. The reputation of the Louisiana justice system is at stake here. If we gain our freedom it would expose the corruption that is rampant throughout the system."

The fate of both Wallace and Woodfox ultimately lies in the hands of the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans—and here, they are worse off than they might have been 40 years ago. In the 1950s and 1960s, a small group of Fifth Circuit judges—mostly Southern-bred moderate Republicans—won a reputation [8] for advancing civil rights and especially school desegregation. But today the Fifth Circuit, which covers Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi, is among the most ideologically conservative of the federal appeals courts. It is notable for its overburdened docket and for its hostility to appeals from defendants in capital cases, including claims based on faulty prosecution and suppressed evidence. In particular, the Fifth Circuit has kept the gurneys rolling in Texas' busy execution chamber. The court has even been reprimanded by the US Supreme Court, itself no friend to death row inmates: In June 2004, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote [9] that in handing down death penalty rulings, the Fifth Circuit was doing no more than "paying lip service to principles" of appellate law.

It will almost certainly be years before Herman Wallace's criminal appeal is finally resolved. While their case is exceptional, Wallace, now 68, and Woodfox, 62, are in certain respects emblematic of an entire generation of prisoners who came of age in a time of lengthening sentences and tightening parole restrictions—spared execution to live out their lives in prison, sometimes in complete isolation. "I'm in this cell or in the hall 24/7, 23 hours in the cell, one hour on the hall,'' he wrote in a letter earlier this year. "Either way you look at it I am locked up with no contact with any others. I use stacks of books for exercise and thereafter I am either writing or reading.'' Wallace keeps himself together by concentrating on his case. "I have no time for foolishness," his letter continues. "I am in a struggle against the state of Louisiana on two strategic fronts, and hear me when I tell you they are not fighting fair."

Perhaps the ultimate irony of Woodfox and Wallace's predicament is that while their political beliefs may have doomed them to a life in lockdown, these same beliefs have also given them the strength to endure it. In his New Yorker piece on solitary confinement as torture, Atul Gawande describes how frequently prisoners have mentally and physically disintegrated in such conditions. What is remarkable about Wallace and Woodfox is how lucid and resolute they remain. They stay in close touch with their supporters. They know every detail of their cases, and when they find the opportunity, they provide counsel to other prisoners. They take pride in refusing to submit to the dictates of the state or of the warden, to accept anyone else's rules or anyone else's god. It's what keeps them sane, and perhaps what keeps them alive.

Herman Wallace writes dozens of letters each week. He composes poems and makes drawings and elaborate paper flowers. For the past five years, he has also been collaborating on a project with Jackie Sumell, a young artist who first contacted him in 2002 with the question "What kind of a house does a man who has lived in a six-foot-by-nine-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?" Together they designed a home [10], which Sumell has translated into architectural plans, models, a traveling exhibit, and a book of drawings and letters called The House That Herman Built. Wallace describes a house with "a swimming pool with a light green bottom and a large Panther in the center. I want flower gardens surrounding the house enclosed. A garage for two cars. A large tree in the backyard under which will be my patio.''

"To build this house is to build my soul," Wallace wrote in a 2006 letter to Sumell. He continued, "I'm often asked what did I come to prison for; and now that I think about it Jackie, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what I came here for, what matters now is what I leave with. And I can assure you, however I leave, I won't leave nothing behind."

Among the activists who took up the cause of the Angola 3 were the late Anita Roddick [11], founder of the Body Shop (and a former Mother Jones board member), and her husband, Gordon. The Roddick's family charity, the Roddick Foundation [12], contributed funding for this story.

This article was first published by Mother Jones. Permission is granted to reprint in full as long as Mother Jones is cited as the original source. URL:

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Posted: Jan 4, 2010 2:48pm
Dec 21, 2009

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Video Interview With Kiilu Nyasha: Counterrevolution in the United States

By Angola 3 News

This new video focuses on the counterrevolution launched against the Black Panther Party, other 1960's revolutionary groups, and the poor and oppressed communities that these groups were organizing. This is the second video released from the hour-long interview conducted with Kiilu Nyasha at her home in San Francisco, CA in November, 2009. The first video was released several weeks ago, and focused on Kiilu's recent article entitled "America's Supermax Prisons Do Torture."

Kiilu Nyasha is a San Francisco-based journalist and former member of the Black Panther Party. Kiilu hosts a weekly TV program, "Freedom Is A Constant Struggle," on SF Live (Comcast 76 and AT&T 99). She writes for several publications, including the SF Bay View Newspaper and Also an accomplished radio programmer, she has worked for KPFA (Berkeley), SF Liberation Radio, Free Radio Berkeley, and KPOO in SF.

Last week, Kiilu created a new website and has begun archiving the most recent episodes of her weekly TV program, "Freedom Is A Constant Struggle." The new website ( features these episodes that have been uploaded to the accompanying YouTube page ( Be sure to check out Kiilu's powerful TV show and please help to spread the word about her new website.




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Posted: Dec 21, 2009 10:07pm
Dec 7, 2009
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Robert Hillary King, a member of the Angola 3, was released from prison in 2001 when his conviction was overturned after many years of legal battles. King spent over 29 years in continuous solitary confinement. The other two members of the Angola 3, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, both remain imprisoned today, having spent the last 37 years in solitary confinement. In 2008, King released his autobiography, entitled From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Robert Hillary King. His autobiography won the 2008 PASS Award, and has been reviewed by SF Bay View, Black Commentator, Hour, Alternet, Political Media Review, La Presse, Albany Times Union, and The Times-Picayune



Dr. Terry Kupers, M.D., M.S.P. wrote the introduction to From the Bottom of the Heap and is Institute Professor at The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. Dr. Kupers is a psychiatrist with a background in psychoanalytic psychotherapy, forensics and social and community psychiatry. His forensic psychiatry experience includes testimony in several large class action litigations concerning jail and prison conditions, sexual abuse, and the quality of mental health services inside correctional facilities. He is a consultant to Human Rights Watch, and author of the 1999 book entitled Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It.



King and Kupers were interviewed in Oakland, California in October, 2009, when King was in town for Black Panther History Month. This video is only part two, so please stay tuned for more!

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Posted: Dec 7, 2009 7:58pm
Nov 27, 2009

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Video Interview With Kiilu Nyasha: America’s Supermax Prisons Do Torture


By Angola 3 News


Kiilu Nyasha is a San Francisco-based journalist and former member of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Kiilu hosts a weekly TV program, "Freedom Is A Constant Struggle," on SF Live (Comcast 76 and AT&T 99), which can be viewed live here on Friday at 7:30 pm (PST), and rebroadcast Saturdays at 3:30 p.m., and Mondays, 6:30 p.m.. She writes for several publications, including the SF Bay View Newspaper and Also an accomplished radio programmer, she has worked for KPFA (Berkeley), SF Liberation Radio, Free Radio Berkeley, and KPOO in SF. Some of her work is archived at and


This new video interview conducted in November, 2009 in San Francisco, is based on a recent article by Nyasha, entitled “America’s Supermax Prisons Do Torture.” This full article is featured below. For more about Nyasha, please read the recent Black Commentator interview with her, entitled “Media, Revolution and the Legacy of the Black Panther Party.”




by Kiilu Nyasha

November 22, 2009

President Barack Obama has clearly stated, “We don’t torture.”

Oh, yes we do. Big time.

A myriad of studies have clearly shown that human beings are social creatures – making prolonged isolation torture.

The New Yorker published an article March 30, 2009 by Atul Gawande titled, Hellhole: The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?

Gawande asks, “If prolonged isolation is – as research and experience have confirmed for decades –so objectively horrifying, so intrinsically cruel, how did we end up with a prison system that may subject more of our own citizens to it than any other country in history has?”

By 2000, some 60 supermax prisons had been opened nationwide, in addition to new isolation units in nearly all maximum-security prisons.

The first such gulag was established in 1983 in Marion, Illinois. In 1989, California opened Pelican Bay State Prison near the Oregon border housing over 1,200 captives. It’s been the model for dozens of other states to follow. The SHU (Security Housing Unit) is entirely windowless, and from inside a cell with doors perforated with tiny holes, prisoners can only see the hallway.

They’re confined 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year with just a brief time (when permitted) in the “dog run” or outdoor enclosure for solitary exercise with no equipment, not even a ball.

But after nearly 20 years, California is now holding more people in solitary than ever; yet its gang problem is worse, and the violence rates have actually gone up.

Nationwide, at least 25,000 prisoners are in solitary confinement with another 50-80,000 in segregation units, many additionally isolated but those numbers are not released.

According to The Washington Post, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons reported there are 216 so-called international terrorists and 139 so-called domestic terrorists currently in federal facilities (I’m convinced the real terrorists are on Capitol Hill). No one has ever escaped from these “most secure prisons.”

In a 60 Minutes segment titled, Supermax: A Clean Version of Hell (revisited), June 21, 2009, the reporters took cameras into the ADX-Florence, Colorado Supermax where there have been six wardens since it opened in 1994. It’s where Imam Jalil al-Amin and Mutulu Shakur are held captive, along with myriad other political prisoners.

One former warden stated, “I don’t know what hell is, but I do know the assumption would be, for a free person, it’s pretty close to it.”

“Supermax is the place America sends the prisoners it wants to punish the most – a place the warden described as a clean version of hell.”

In a national study (Hayes and Rowan 1988) of 401 suicides in U.S. prisons —one of the largest studies of its kind—two out of every three people who committed suicide were being held in a control unit.

In one year, 2005, a record 44 prisoners killed themselves in California alone; 70 percent of those suicides occurred in segregation units

Bret Grote is an investigator and organizer with Human Rights Coalition/Fed Up!, a prisoner rights/prison abolitionist organization based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In the Angola 3 Newsletter, Grote details how HRC/Fed Up! Documented many hundreds of human rights abuses in Pennsylvania’s 27 prisons. Their investigations concluded that Pennsylvania is “operating a sophisticated program of torture under an utterly baseless pretext of ‘security,’ wherein close to 3,000 people are held in conditions of solitary/control unit confinement each day.”

Supermax prisons can also contain death rows where prisoners can spend decades in isolation, torture, with the added torment of impending execution. One obvious example is the highly political case of former Black Panther, journalist and author, Mumia Abu-Jamal, falsely convicted of killing a cop in 1981. Despite hard evidence of innocence, he’s still locked up in SCI Green, a Pennsylvania Supermax, after 27 years on death row and the signing of two death warrants.

These conditions are a flagrant violation of article 6 of the U.S. Constitution which affirms that treaty law (i.e. international law) is the “supreme law of the land.” Thus, article 10 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that “The penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation.”

Contrary to the lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key rhetoric of politicians, A Zogby poll released in April 2006 found 87 percent of Americans favor rehabilitative services for prisoners as opposed to punishment only.

The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, a bipartisan national task force, produced a study after a yearlong investigation (2005-2006) that called for ending long-term solitary confinement of prisoners. The report found practically no benefits and plenty of harm – for prisoners and the public.

One of the most egregious cases of prolonged torture is the politically-charged isolation of Hugo Pinell still held in Pelican Bay’s SHU after nearly 20 years. For his active resistance back in the 1960s and assault conviction in the San Quentin Six case (1976), my dear friend has spent a total of 40 years in hellholes – 45 of his 64 years in California prisons. (

“In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation,” writes Gawande, “ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement – on our own people, in our own communities, in a supermax prison, for example, that is a 30-minute drive from my home.”

In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful!

Power to the people!


--Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more. Our online video series has now released interviews with Robert King and Terry Kupers entitled “The Psychological Impact of Imprisonment,”  Black Panther artist Emory Douglas entitled “The Black Panther Party and Revolutionary Art,” author J. Patrick O’Connor entitled “Kevin Cooper: Will California Execute An Innocent Man,” author Dan Berger entitled “Political Prisoners in the United States,” and Colonel Nyati Bolt entitled “The Assassination of George Jackson.” Please help spread the word!


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Posted: Nov 27, 2009 9:01pm
Nov 20, 2009


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VIDEO --  Robert King & Terry Kupers: The Psychological Impact of Imprisonment


By Angola 3 News


Robert Hillary King, a member of the Angola 3, was released from prison in 2001 when his conviction was overturned after many years of legal battles. The other two members of the Angola 3, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, both remain imprisoned today. In 2008, King released his autobiography, entitled From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Robert Hillary King. His autobiography won the 2008 PASS Award, and has been reviewed by SF Bay View, Black Commentator, Hour, Alternet, Political Media Review, La Presse, Albany Times Union, and The Times-Picayune


Dr. Terry Kupers, M.D., M.S.P. wrote the introduction to From the Bottom of the Heap and is Institute Professor at The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. Dr. Kupers is a psychiatrist with a background in psychoanalytic psychotherapy, forensics and social and community psychiatry. His forensic psychiatry experience includes testimony in several large class action litigations concerning jail and prison conditions, sexual abuse, and the quality of mental health services inside correctional facilities. He is a consultant to Human Rights Watch, and author of the 1999 book entitled Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It.


King and Kupers were interviewed in Oakland, California in October, 2009, when King was in town for Black Panther History Month. This video is only part one, so please stay tuned for more!


--Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more. Our online video series has now released interviews with Black Panther artist Emory Douglas titled “The Black Panther Party and Revolutionary Art,” author J. Patrick O’Connor titled “Kevin Cooper: Will California Execute An Innocent Man,” author Dan Berger titled “Political Prisoners in the United States,” and Colonel Nyati Bolt titled “The Assassination of George Jackson.”


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Posted: Nov 20, 2009 10:36pm
Nov 18, 2009

(Artwork by Zina Saunders)


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The Arrest and Torture of Syed Hashmi



--An interview with Jeanne Theoharis



By Angola 3 News



Jeanne Theoharis is the author of an April, 2009 article in The Nation, entitled “Guantanamo At Home,” which focuses on the arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment of US citizen Syed Hashmi in a New York City prison with Guantanamo-like conditions. Theoharis holds the endowed chair in women's studies and is an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College, CUNY.



Syed Hashmi’s trial will begin in New York City on December 1. The website explains that: “Syed Hashmi, known to his family and friends as Fahad, was born in Karachi, Pakistan in 1980, the second child of Syed Anwar Hashmi and Arifa Hashmi. Fahad immigrated with his family to America when he was three years old. His father said ‘We knew there would be many opportunities for us here in the United States. We came here to find the American dream.’ The large Hashmi family settled in Flushing, New York and soon developed deep roots throughout the tri-state area. Fahad graduated from Robert F. Wagner High School in 1998 and attended SUNY Stony Brook University. He transferred to Brooklyn College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2003. A devout Muslim, through the years Fahad established a reputation as an activist and advocate. In 2003, Fahad enrolled in London Metropolitan University in England to pursue a master’s degree in international relations, which he received in 2006. On June 6, 2006, Fahad was arrested in London Heathrow airport by British police based on an American indictment charging him with material support of Al Qaida. He was subsequently held in Belmarsh Prison, Britain’s most notorious jail.” For more information on the Hashmi case, also visit:



Angola 3 News: Can you please give us background on the arrest and prosecution of Syed Hashmi? For example, what are the charges against him? What is their evidence?

Jeanne Theoharis: In June 2006, Hashmi, who is a US citizen, was arrested by the British police at Heathrow Airport (he was about to travel to Pakistan, where he has family) on a warrant issued by the US government. In May 2007, he was extradited to the United States, the first US citizen to be extradited under terrorism laws passed after 9/11. Since then, he has since been held in solitary confinement at Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).



The US government alleges that early in 2004, a man by the name of Junaid Babar, also a Pakistani-born US citizen, stayed with Hashmi at his London apartment for two weeks. According to the government, Babar stored luggage containing raincoats, ponchos, and waterproof socks in Hashmi’s apartment and then Babar delivered these materials to the third-ranking member of Al Qaida in South Waziristan, Pakistan. In addition, Hashmi allegedly allowed Babar to use his cell phone to call other conspirators in terrorist plots.



The government has claimed that Babar’s testimony is the “centerpiece” of its case. Babar, who has pleaded guilty to five counts of material support for Al Qaida, faces up to seventy years in prison. While awaiting sentence, he has agreed to serve as a government witness in terrorism trials in Britain and Canada as well as in Hashmi’s trial. Under a plea agreement reported in the media, Babar will receive a reduced sentence in return for his cooperation.

A3N: What can you tell us about Hashmi as a person, especially your personal experience of knowing him when he was a student of yours?


JH: Fahad was a student of mine at Brooklyn College in 2002. An outspoken Muslim student activist, Fahad wrote his senior seminar paper with me on the treatment of Muslim groups within the United States and the violations of civil rights and liberties that many groups were facing. Needless to say, this feels particularly chilling—and no longer academic—as we have now witnessed his own rights being violated.


A3N: Since his arrest, what have the conditions of his incarceration been?


JH: Under special administrative measures (SAMs) imposed in October 2007 by the former Attorney General, Hashmi must be held in solitary confinement and may not communicate with anyone inside the prison other than prison officials. Family visits are limited to one person every other week for one and a half hours and cannot involve physical contact. While his correspondence to members of Congress and other government officials is not restricted, he may write only one letter (of no more than three pieces of paper) per week to one family member. He may not communicate, either directly or through his attorneys, with the news media. He may read only designated portions of newspapers – and not until thirty days after their publication – and his access to other reading material is restricted. He may not listen to or watch news-oriented radio stations and television channels. He may not participate in group prayer. He is subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring inside and outside his cell – including when he showers or relieves himself – and 23-hour lockdown. He has no access to fresh air and must take his one hour of daily recreation – when it is given – inside a cage.



As the expert testimony supplied by Hashmi’s attorneys in a pre-trial motion of December 2008 attests, the conditions of Hashmi’s detention may have severe physical and mental consequences and impair his mental state and ability to testify on his own behalf.



While former Acting Attorney General Keisler claimed that these measures are necessary because “there is substantial risk that [Hashmi’s] communications or contacts with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury to persons,” Hashmi was held with other prisoners in a British jail for eleven months without incident. The SAMs were renewed by Attorney General Mukasey in November 2008 and upheld by Judge Loretta Preska in January 2009, citing Hashmi’s &ldquoroclivity for violence.” There has been no change to the SAMs under the Obama Administration. They were renewed again by Attorney General Holder in early November 2009. Yet, Hashmi is not being charged and has never been charged with committing an actual act of violence.



Currently, according to research by the New York Times in February 2009, there are six people in the United States being held on pre-trial terrorism SAMs; three (including Hashmi) are under the jurisdiction of the Southern District of New York, which has long served as a stepping stone to national political office.


A3N: Looking particularly at the harsh solitary confinement imposed on Hashmi, how is this officially justified? Do you think the stated reason is the actual motivation, or do you think there are other reasons for the solitary confinement and other harsh restrictions?


JH: My colleagues and I have begun to come to the conclusion that the use of prolonged solitary confinement is a tactic to ensure convictions. Such conditions weaken people mentally and the toll of sensory deprivation and isolation simultaneously makes people more eager to take a plea or not able to fully assist their counsel. Most experts agree it is torture (see Atul Gawande's “Hellhole” in The New Yorker). While our public discussions have tended to see torture as a tactic to get information, in cases like Hashmi's, torture is being used to help secure convictions.


A3N: How are the prion conditions for Hashmi in NYC different from those in Guantanamo?


JH: There are key similarities of prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation between Hashmi's treatment at MCC in lower Manhattan and what we have heard of the conditions at Guantanamo. However, there has been much less attention to these inhumane conditions within the United States.



The focus on prisons like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and Baghram stems, in part, from a larger post-civil rights paradigm that assumes the judicial process is now fair in the United States and relatively incorruptible and thus it was necessary to go outside of the US courts to do the extreme bad things.



Rather, what made Guantanamo possible stemmed from domestic legal practices, many already in place and many others expanded after 9/11, which have continued almost unabated under the Obama Administration.


A3N: With Hashmi’s trial beginning on December 1, what are activists currently doing to support him?


JH: Theaters Against War began holding weekly vigils in October to draw attention to the inhumane conditions of confinement and the due process violations Hashmi and others are facing within the federal courts. Artists and actors such as Wallace Shawn, Kathleen Chalfant, Bill Irwin, Jan Maxwell, Betty Shamieh, and Christine Moore have performed at the vigils.


A3N: Any closing thoughts?


JH: Three central Constitutional issues have become clear in the treatment of Hashmi and others within the federal system: the inhumane conditions of confinement, the abridgement of due process rights , and the lack of 1st Amendment protections.



If these are not addressed, then moving the Guantanamo detainees into the federal system does little to return America to the rule of law, of which we are rightfully proud. I am reminded of that quote by former Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1967, ""It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of...those liberties...which [make] the defense of the nation worthwhile."


--Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more. Our online video series has now released interviews with Black Panther artist Emory Douglas titled “The Black Panther Party and Revolutionary Art,” author J. Patrick O’Connor titled “Kevin Cooper: Will California Execute An Innocent Man,” author Dan Berger titled “Political Prisoners in the United States,” and Colonel Nyati Bolt titled “The Assassination of George Jackson.”


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Posted: Nov 18, 2009 9:44pm


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