But after a legal fight that went to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, corrections officials have adhered to an Oct. 22 order by U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton that the videos be placed in the public court file and made available for broader distribution.
The videos are considered critical evidence in support of the efforts by inmate attorneys to win court-ordered changes in the handling of mentally ill prisoners in California, particularly when it comes to the use of pepper spray, batons and other types of heightened force.
The attorneys contend the videos offer stark evidence of mentally ill prisoners being subjected to cruel and unnecessary force, and they insist the public should know what techniques are being used behind the walls and fences of the state’s taxpayer-funded prisons.
In an interview Wednesday, Michael Bien, lead counsel for the inmates in the 23-year-old class action lawsuit before Karlton, said he believes “strongly” that the public should be able to view the videos with some redactions to obscure identities. Names of inmates and guards have been shielded, although their faces can be seen.
“As good a job as the attorneys and the witnesses may do in bringing out the facts for the court, that is a poor substitute for actually seeing what they are talking about,” Bien said. “In fact, citizens have a duty to look at these images, as terrible as they are.
“This is happening in taxpayer-financed institutions, the inmates are residents of this state and the officers are public employees. People in California should see for themselves the excessive force used on seriously mentally ill patients and be able to measure the impact it has on their sense of humanity.”
On the videos, prison guards can be seen using heavy amounts of pepper spray and physical force to subdue inmates in mental health units who have disobeyed orders or are refusing to take medication or leave their cells. In some scenes, the inmates scream in pain or confusion, at times appearing fearful about what is being done and why.
They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for Channel 4 that will be broadcast next week.
Our findings were not based on rumour or suspicion. They were based on solid evidence, chiefly videotapes that we collected from all over the U.S.
In many American states, prison regulations demand that any ‘use of force operation’, such as searching cells for drugs, must be filmed by a guard.
The theory is that the tapes will show proper procedure was followed and that no excessive force was used. In fact, many of them record the exact opposite.
Each tape provides a shocking insight into the reality of life inside the U.S. prison system – a reality that sits very uncomfortably with President Bush’s commitment to the battle for freedom and democracy against the forces of tyranny and oppression.
In fact, the Texas episode outlined above dates from 1996, when Bush was state Governor.
Frank Carlson was one of the lawyers who fought a compensation battle on behalf of the victims. I asked him about his reaction when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke last year and U.S. politicians rushed to express their astonishment and disgust that such abuses could happen at the hands of American guards.
‘I thought: “What hypocrisy,” Carlson told me. ‘Because they know we do it here every day.’
All the lawyers I spoke to during our investigations shared Carlson’s belief that Abu Ghraib, far from being the work of a few rogue individuals, was simply the export of the worst practices that take place in the domestic prison system all the time. They pointed to the mountain of files stacked on their desks, on the floor, in their office corridors – endless stories of appalling, sadistic treatment inside America’s own prisons.
Many of the tapes we’ve collected are several years old. That’s because they only surface when determined lawyers prise them out of reluctant state prison departments during protracted lawsuits.
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Torture Inc. Americas Brutal Prisons Update
By Deborah Davies First posted March 28, 2005
Savaged by dogs, Electrocuted With Cattle Prods, Burned By Toxic Chemicals, Does such barbaric abuse inside U.S. jails explain the horrors that were committed in Iraq?
They are just some of the victims of wholesale torture taking place inside the U.S. prison system that we uncovered during a four-month investigation for Channel 4 . It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realize that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.
The prison guards stand over their captives with electric cattle prods, stun guns, and dogs. Many of the prisoners have been ordered to strip naked. The guards are yelling abuse at them, ordering them to lie on the ground and crawl. ‘Crawl, motherf*****s, crawl.’
If a prisoner doesn’t drop to the ground fast enough, a guard kicks him or stamps on his back. There’s a high-pitched scream from one man as a dog clamps its teeth onto his lower leg.
Another prisoner has a broken ankle. He can’t crawl fast enough so a guard jabs a stun gun onto his buttocks. The jolt of electricity zaps through his naked flesh and genitals. For hours afterwards his whole body shakes.
Lines of men are now slithering across the floor of the cellblock while the guards stand over them shouting, prodding and kicking.
Second by second, their humiliation is captured on a video camera by one of the guards.
The images of abuse and brutality he records are horrifyingly familiar. These were exactly the kind of pictures from inside Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad that shocked the world this time last year.
And they are similar, too, to the images of brutality against Iraqi prisoners that this week led to the conviction of three British soldiers.
But there is a difference. These prisoners are not caught up in a war zone. They are Americans, and the video comes from inside a prison in Texas.
America, with 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of its prisoners.
John Martinez, has been held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay for more than 12 years.
About 80,000 people in the United States are put into solitary. It’s an inhumane practice, but in California they go to an extreme by placing people without any windows, without any phone calls, trying to totally isolate them.
“Amnesty International considers that the conditions of isolation and other deprivations imposed on prisoners in California’s SHU units breach international standards on humane treatment, and that prolonged or indefinite isolation, and the severe social and environmental deprivation existing in Pelican Bay SHU in particular, constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in violation of international law.”
Unfortunately, getting the US to respect international law is not as clear-cut as the act of documenting human rights violations. Notably, The Edge of Endurance explains: “The USA has sought to limit the application of international human rights law in its conduct by entering reservations to article 7 of the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] and article 16 of the Convention against Torture as a condition of ratifying the treaties. The reservations state that the US considers itself bound by the articles only to the extent that ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ means the ‘cruel and unusual treatment or punishment’ prohibited under the US Constitution. Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the USA to withdraw its reservations as defeating the object and purpose of the treaties in question and therefore incompatible with international law.”
Professor Craig Haney pointed out that the United States, and California in particular, is “unsettlingly out of sync with the international community on the issue of solitary confinement. “Modestly implemented reform,” he added, “is not going to make a difference.”
Most persons now in solitary confinement will someday be back on America’s streets, some of them rendered psychotic by what are called correctional institutions.
His mother, Carol, cried as she told me: ‘If that’s not torture, I don’t know what is.’ Charles’s father, Chuck, listened in silence as we filmed the interview, but every so often he padded out of the room to cry quietly in the kitchen.
The second tape, from five years earlier, shows Scott Norberg dying a similar death in the same jail. He was also a drug user arrested for causing a nuisance. Norberg was severely beaten by the guards, stunned up to 19 times with a Taser gun and forced into the chair where – like Charles Agster – he suffocated.
The county’s insurers paid Norberg’s family more than £4 millions in an out-of-court settlement, but the sheriff was furious with the deal. ‘My officers were clear,’ he said. ‘The insurance firm was afraid to go before a jury.’
Now he’s determined to fight the Agster case all the way through the courts. Yet tonight, in Sheriff Joe’s jail, there’ll probably be someone else strapped into the chair.
Not all the tapes we uncovered were filmed by the guards themselves. Linda Evans smuggled a video camera into a hospital to record her son, Brian. You can barely see his face through all the tubes and all you can hear is the rhythmic sucking of the ventilator.
He was another of Sheriff Joe’s inmates. After an argument with guards, he told a prison doctor they’d beaten him up. Six days later, he was found unconscious of the floor of his cell with a broken neck, broken toes and internal injuries. After a month in a coma, he died from septicaemia.
‘Mr Arpaio is responsible.’ Linda Evans told me, struggling to speak through her tears. ‘He seems to thrive on this cruelty and this mentality that these men are nothing.’
In some of the tapes it’s not just the images, it’s also the sounds that are so unbearable. There’s one tape from Florida which I’ve seen dozens of times but it still catches me in the stomach.
It’s an authorized ‘use of force operation’ – so a guard is videoing what happens. They’re going to Taser a prisoner for refusing orders.
But for every ‘historical’ tape we collected, we also found a more recent story. What you see on the tape is still happening daily.
It’s terrible to watch some of the videos and realize that you’re not only seeing torture in action but, in the most extreme cases, you are witnessing young men dying.
In one horrific scene, a naked man, passive and vacant, is seen being led out of his cell by prison guards. They strap him into a medieval-looking device called a ‘restraint chair’. His hands and feet are shackled, there’s a strap across his chest, his head lolls forward. He looks dead. He’s not. Not yet.
The chair is his punishment because guards saw him in his cell with a pillowcase on his head and he refused to take it off. The man has a long history of severe schizophrenia. Sixteen hours later, they release him from the chair. And two hours after that, he dies from a blood clot resulting from his barbaric treatment.
The tape comes from Utah – but there are others from Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Arizona and probably many more. We found more than 20 cases of prisoners who’ve died in the past few years after being held in a restraint chair.
Two of the deaths we investigated were in the same county jail in Phoenix, Arizona, which is run by a man who revels in the title of ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff.’
His name is Joe Arpaio. He positively welcomes TV crews and we were promised ‘unfettered access.’ It was a reassuring turn of phrase – you don’t want to be fettered in one of Sheriff Joe’s jails.
We uncovered two videotapes from surveillance cameras showing how his tough stance can end in tragedy.
The first tape, from 2001, shows a man named Charles Agster dragged in by police, handcuffed at the wrists and ankles. Agster is mentally disturbed and a drug user. He was arrested for causing a disturbance in a late-night grocery store. The police handed him over to the Sheriff’s deputies in the jail. Agster is a tiny man, weighing no more than nine stone, but he’s struggling.
The tape shows nine deputies manhandling him into the restraint chair. One of them kneels on Agster’s stomach, pushing his head forward on to his knees and pulling his arms back to strap his wrists into the chair.
Bending someone double for any length of time is dangerous – the manuals on the use of the 'restraint chair’ warn of the dangers of ‘positional asphyxia.’
Fifteen minutes later, a nurse notices Agster is unconscious. The cameras show frantic efforts to resuscitate him, but he’s already brain dead. He died three days later in hospital. Agster's family is currently suing Arizona County.
Corrections officials maintain that the videos do not tell the entire story.
“Use of force is always a last resort for our staff, and cell extractions are typically done to keep inmates from harming themselves or others and to ensure that they are placed in a more appropriate mental health setting,” corrections spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said in a statement issued after the videos were lodged in the public file.
“What you don’t see on these videos is the hours of discussions that take place between the inmate and clinical staff before a cell extraction is ordered and the video camera starts rolling.”
Nevertheless, the footage aired in court and similar videos already have had an impact. One top-ranking corrections official testified last month that the attention generated by the videos has helped trigger proposed changes to prison policies.
Michael Stainer, director of CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions, testified Oct. 23 that the incidents depicted could be described as “at best, controlled chaos.” He said he has reviewed 122 videos of custodial staff interacting with mentally ill inmates and that the department is “currently drafting more stringent rules” on the use of force, including pepper spray.
The chemical will be employed “only when it can be effective,” he said. A “maximum amount” and “maximum duration,” as well as “a waiting period between applications” will be mandated. Which options should be exercised in a given situation, and in what order, will also be set out.
The long-running legal battle before Karlton and a companion lawsuit against the state in San Francisco federal court have resulted in significant changes to medical treatment in California’s prisons, and a marked reduction in inmate population. A three-judge court in California ruled that overcrowding is the primary reason for unconstitutional health care in the state’s adult prison system.
The tape shows a prisoner lying on an examination table in the prison hospital. The guards are instructing him to climb down into a wheelchair. ‘I can’t, I can’t!’ he shouts with increasing desperation. ‘It hurts!’
One guard then jabs him on both hips with a Taser. The man jerks as the electricity hits him and shrieks, but still won’t get into the wheelchair.
The guards grab him and drop him into the chair. As they try to bend his legs up on to the footrest, he screams in pain. The man’s lawyer told me he has a very limited mental capacity. He says he has a back injury and can’t walk or bend his legs without intense pain.
The tape becomes even more harrowing. The guards try to make the prisoner stand up and hold a walking frame. He falls on the floor, crying in agony. They Taser him again. He runs out of the energy and breath to cry and just lies there moaning.
One of the most recent video tapes was filmed in January last year. A surveillance camera in a youth institution in California records an argument between staff members and two ‘wards’ – they’re not called prisoners.
One of the youths hits a staff member in the face. He knocks the ward to the floor then sits astride him punching him over and over again in the head.
Watching the tape you can almost feel each blow. The second youth is also punched and kicked in the head – even after he’s been handcuffed. Other staff just stand around and watch.
We also collected some truly horrific photographs.
A few years ago, in Florida, the new warden of the high security state prison ordered an end to the videoing of ‘use of force operations.’ So we have no tapes to show how prison guards use pepper spray to punish prisoners.
But we do have the lawsuit describing how men were doused in pepper spray and then left to cook in the burning fog of chemicals. Photographs taken by their lawyers show one man has a huge patch of raw skin over his hip. Another is covered in an angry rash across his neck, back and arms. A third has deep burns on his buttocks.
‘They usually use fire extinguishers size canisters of pepper spray,’ lawyer Christopher Jones explained. ‘We have had prisoners who have had second degree burns all over their bodies.
But then, as one of the prison reformers we met on our journey across the U.S. told me: ‘We’ve become immune to the abuse. The brutality has become customary.’
So far, the U.S. government is refusing to release these Guantanamo tapes. If they are ever made public – or leaked – I suspect the images will be very familiar.
Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo – or even Texas. The prisoners and all guards may vary, but the abuse is still too familiar. And much is it is taking place in America’s own backyard.
Deborah Davies is a reporter for Channel 4 Dispatches. Her investigation, Torture: America’s Brutal Prisons, was shown on Wednesday, March 2, at 11.05pm.
‘The tell-tale sign is they turn off the ventilation fans in the unit. Prisoners report that cardboard is shoved in the crack of the door to make sure it’s really air-tight.’
And why were they sprayed? According to the official prison reports, their infringements included banging on the cell door and refusing medication. From the same Florida prison we also have photographs of Frank Valdes – autopsy pictures. Realistically, he had little chance of ever getting out of prison alive. He was on Death Row for killing a prison officer. He had time to reconcile himself to the Electric Chair – he didn’t expect to be beaten to death.
Valdes started writing to local Florida newspapers to expose the corruption and brutality of prison officers. So a gang of guards stormed into his cell to shut him up. They broke almost every one of his ribs, punctured his lung, smashed his spleen and left him to die.
Several of the guards were later charged with murder, but the trial was held in their own small hometown where almost everyone works for, or has connection with, the five prisons which ring the town. The foreman of the jury was former prison officer. The guards were all acquitted.
Meanwhile, the warden who was in charge of the prison at the time of the killing – the same man who changed the policy on videoing – has been promoted. He’s now the man in charge of all the Florida prisons.
How could anyone excuse – still less condone – such behavior? The few prison guards who would talk to us have a siege mentality. They see themselves outnumbered, surrounded by dangerous, violent criminals, so they back each other up, no matter what.
I asked one serving officer what happened if colleagues beat up an inmate. ‘We cover up. Because we’re the good guys.’
No one should doubt that the vast majority of U.S. prison officers are decent individuals doing their best in difficult circumstances. But when horrific abuse by the few goes unreported and uninvestigated, it solidifies into a general climate of acceptance among the many.
At the same time the overall hardening of attitudes in modern-day America has meant the notion of rehabilitation has been almost lost. The focus is entirely on punishment – even loss of liberty is not seen as punishment enough. Being on the restraint devices and the chemical sprays.
Since we finished filming for the program in January, I’ve stayed in contact with various prisoners’ rights groups and the families of many of the victims. Every single day come more e-mails full of fresh horror stories. In the past weeks, two more prisoners have died, in Alabama and Ohio. One man was pepper sprayed, the other tasered.
Then, three weeks ago, reports emerged of 20 hours of video material from Guantanamo Bay showing prisoners being stripped, beaten and pepper sprayed. One of those affected is Omar Deghayes, one of the seven British residents still being held there.
His lawyer says Deghayes is now permanently blind in one eye. American military investigators have reviewed the tapes and apparently found ‘no evidence of systematic abuse.’
That ruling has twice been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The inmates’ attorneys urge additional improvements, and in the present hearing before Karlton are arguing for reforms in two areas: the amount of force acceptable against mentally ill inmates; and the access to mental health care that condemned prisoners have at San Quentin State Prison.
“The Constitution does not permit inhumane prisons,” the attorneys argued in one court filing, and experts they have hired testified during the 12 days of the hearing that the amount of weaponry guards carry and the quantities of pepper spray showered upon inmates in cells are far beyond what they have seen in other states.
Corrections officials dispute that, contending the videos do not reflect the extensive efforts made to coax inmates into compliance before prison officials turn on the cameras.
“I found that CDCR personnel generally applied force in good-faith efforts to maintain or restore order,” Steve J. Martin, a Texas-based corrections expert hired by the state, declared in one court filing after reviewing more than 300 use-of-force incidents.
“Moreover, I found no instances in which force was inflicted maliciously or sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.”
Corrections policy requires that video recordings be made when officials use force against an inmate, and in the course of the lawsuit attorneys for the inmates won access to 17 videos filmed during “controlled” use-of-force incidents. Those incidents involved efforts to extract an inmate from a cell after he has refused to come out or otherwise refused an order.
They follow a careful script in which officers and medical staffers appear before a camera operator and describe who they are and what function they will perform leading up to and during the extraction.
The inmates’ attorneys contend that the videos show corrections officials too often resort to forceful tactics against prisoners who, because of mental illness, often cannot understand the orders being issued.
READ MORE- http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2013/11/01/california-releases-controversial-prison-videos/
Horrific Torture and Police Abuse -- How Much Will We Take?
By Joan Walsh / Salon
There is so much that’s horrifying about what’s now simply called “the torture report,” the redacted summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into years of unforgivable CIA abuse post-9/11. But one thing that recurs disturbingly often is anal rape imagery: examples of “rectal feeding,” of rectal exams that used “excessive force,” and “at least one instance,” according to the report, of threatened sodomy with a broomstick.
Am I the only one who thought about Abner Louima, the Haitian immigrant who was not just threatened but actually sodomized with a broomstick by the New York Police Department’s Justin Volpe in 1997? The torture report’s release, in the wake of grand juries failing to indict police officers who killed unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and right here in New York, where Louima was tortured, reminds us of the danger of unaccountable state power.
Yet an undercurrent of authoritarianism in American culture — and a particular American deference to authority figures who are supposed to “protect” us – threatens to let it go unchecked.
To be fair, many Americans are horrified by the torture report’s revelations. And many Americans believe police officers should be held accountable when they use excessive force and harm or kill Americans, of any race. But there’s a disturbing impulse evident lately, to excuse abuses of power on the part of those who are charged with protecting us, whether cops or the post-9/11 CIA. “I don’t care what we did!” former Bush flack Nicolle Wallace shrieked on “Morning Joe” Monday. And she spoke for too many Americans. (Though not for her former boss Sen. John McCain.)
I watched the debate over the torture report unfurl all day, online, in print and on television. All the coverage focused on a few questions: whether Sen. Dianne Feinstein is right that torture didn’t work; whether the report might produce blowback by our enemies; whether the CIA is being scapegoated for Bush administration decisions. There was shockingly little emphasis on the fact that torture is illegal and a war crime, banned by the Geneva Conventions, a U.N. Convention against torture ratified under a supportive Ronald Reagan, and by Title 18, Part I, Chapter 113C of the U.S. Code.
So much in the torture report should appall Americans, above and beyond the many details of depravity. CIA officials lied about who they had in custody. They lied about what they were doing. They destroyed evidence. They tortured two of their own informants. At least 20 percent of the people they detained, as examined by investigators, were held wrongfully. They paid $81 million to two psychologists who knew nothing about al-Qaida, terrorism or the war against them. They didn’t fully brief President Bush until April 2006, after 38 of 39 detainees had already been interrogated.
This should be an issue that unites civil libertarians on the left and the right – as should excessive force by police — but the authoritarian impulse is stronger on the right. Libertarianism also seems overwhelmed by the prevailing resentment of President Obama, and the changing America that he represents. Still, it’s amazing: Even as wingnuts deride Obama as a fascist and a tyrant, they applaud excessive force by police officers and CIA officials.
It’s also amazing that it’s taken two years to get a redacted executive summary of the “torture report” released. Let’s remember that we’re merely talking about sharing information about the Senate’s investigation into torture, not about indicting or punishing anyone. At least grand juries considered whether to indict Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo in the killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. There has been no such process regarding CIA torturers.
Which is not to say the grand jury process in Ferguson or Staten Island delivered justice to those men’s families. Nor have the families of John Crawford and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, African-Americans killed by police while holding toy guns, even gotten a fair and clear accounting of how their sons died. Young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than white men, yet white people’s confidence in police fairness, and doubts about cops’ racial bias, have never been higher, while African-Americans’ is understandably at a record low.
Thankfully Abner Louima’s attackers were punished; Volpe is serving 30 years in prison, and Louima won a settlement of $8.7 million – the largest police brutality settlement in New York history at the time. The Louima rape happened to take place under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has emerged as the chief defender of cops who kill in the last two weeks. Giuliani’s career is an example of how the authoritarian impulse in American politics often prevails.
I don’t know why the worst element in law enforcement – locally and globally – turns to rape when left unchecked. But since rape is about power, it may be the ultimate example of how absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Weirdly, the incorrigible neocon Danielle Pletka made a reference to rape, or at least the botched Rolling Stone story on rape,in the New York Times, when attacking the Senate’s torture report. “It has become the norm,” she complained, “to act based on false reports; to close fraternities because of rapes that may or may not have happened; to release terrorists because it is inconvenient to keep them.”
How strange that Pletka would reference rape in this context. Or maybe not.
The right-wing backlash that defends torture and police abuse also agitates to restore a culture that blames rape victims for what happened to them, and excuses all but the most violent sexual assault as boys just being boys. Human progress is marked by the rejection of all such abuses of power; it feels like we’re living in a time when such progress is stalled, temporarily.
EDITORS NOTE: No, the "powers-that-be" are taking us back to the stone ages. They want complete and total control over everything. They can't claim to be fighting Communism or "radical Islam" or terrorist, these are American citizens, so, is this just how Christians treat each other? I don't think I remember this from Sunday school but Jesus Christ must have said to waterboard thy enemies. Pour copious amounts of water over their faces until they think they are drowning. So sayeth the Lord thy God the Almighty American dollar.
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Four more victims of incarceration at Chicago’s secret Guantanamo Bay style secret detention/torture center have come out and spoken to The Guardian about their experience being essentially treated like cattle. They are four black males, Brock Terry, Kory Wright, Deandre Hutcherson and David Smith.
Three of them were held in 2006, and one in 2011.
They were kicked in the genitals while helpless and bound, put in ‘kennels for humans’, and they heard the bloodcurdling screams of other helpless victims.
This program shows that abuses like those documented in Abu Ghraib are commonplace in the USA's overcrowded and understaffed prisons.
Prisoners are shackled and hooded for their own protection; pepper spray is used as an alternative to physical force, but in sufficient quantities to cause second-degree burns; beatings are frequent and sometimes fatal.
The program suggests that the cause is not a few bad apples, but a pervasive culture of dehumanization and brutality.
California releases controversial prison videos
By Associated Press
Six videos of dramatic confrontations between mentally ill prison inmates and California prison guards were filed Thursday in federal court, giving the public its first glimpse of what inmate advocates contend are inhumane uses of force.
The videos have been the subject of legal battles for months as the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation tried unsuccessfully to block them from being shown in court. Until Thursday, they had been viewed by only a small group of observers, played under tight restrictions in a Sacramento federal courtroom as part of an ongoing class-action lawsuit.