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PRESS RELEASE: USA ˝ Open letter from IHRC to President Barack Obama regarding the widespread use of 23-hour solitary confinement in the US prison system

22 January 2009

In open letter to Obama, IHRC Chair expresses that if torture ýis never okţ for terrorism suspects in US custody, it must be no less true for American citizens serving out sentences in the US penal system.

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Islamic Human Rights Commission
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22 January 2009

PRESS RELEASE: USA ˝ Open letter from IHRC to President Barack Obama regarding the widespread use of 23-hour solitary confinement in the US prison system

During the recent election campaign, President Obama was noted for repeatedly voicing his disapproval of extraordinary renditions and Guantanamo Bay, particularly in light of torture being used during the interrogation of terrorism suspects[1]. Nevertheless, no attention was given to the fact that ýmore than 30 states across America operate Supermax-like facilities which use 23-hour lockdown and long-term isolationţ, in spite of long-term solitary confinement being utterly condemned by the the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment[2][3].

In the letter, IHRC Chair Massoud Shadjareh expresses that if torture ýis never okţ for ýterrorism suspects in US custody, it must be no less true for American citizens serving out sentences in the US penal systemţ[4].

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OPEN LETTER

22 January 2009

Open letter from Islamic Human Rights Commission to President Barack Obama regarding the widespread use of 23-hour solitary confinement in the America prison system

Dear President Barack Obama,

The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) would firstly like to congratulate your historic election win and presidency, and welcome the important campaign promises you have made, particularly on the human rights front. In your campaign speeches and statements throughout the presidential race you made unmistakeably-clear the position of an Obama administration on the use of torture ˝ ýrejecting torture without equivocationţ and that ýit is never okţ. If this is the case for foreign terrorists and terrorism suspects in US custody, it must be no less true for American citizens serving out sentences in the US penal system. By this, I wish to draw your attention to the widespread use of 23-hour solitary confinement within the American prison system.

The well-documented history of modern solitary confinement can be traced back to the 1820Ýs, in the model implemented at Cherry Hill Prison (Eastern State Penitentiary) in Philadelphia. What was intended to be a reformative program soon proved to create suicidal/insane inmates as opposed to reformed members of society. Solitary confinement was largely abandoned within few decades to follow.

More recent studies would likewise confirm that the negative effects of prolonged solitary confinement far outweigh the positive. An October 2008 interim report by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, found that ýsolitary confinement may cause serious psychological and sometimes physiological ill effects.ţ The report further stated that ýbetween one third and as many as 90 per cent of prisoners experience adverse symptoms in solitary confinementţ, with resultant symptoms ranging from ýinsomnia and confusion to hallucinations and psychosisţ. Likewise, such symptoms were ýregardless of time and place, and regardless of pre-existing personal factorsţ.

As such, the United Nations Human Rights Committee stipulated that ýuse of prolonged solitary confinement may amount to a breach of article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (general comment No. 20 (1992))ţ. The Special RapporteurÝs final conclusion was that ýsolitary confinement should be absolutely prohibitedţ in circumstances including ýdeath row and life-sentenced prisoners by virtue of their sentence.ţ Similar to that, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights affirmed that ýprolonged solitary confinement constitutes a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment prohibited under article 5 of the American Convention on Human Rights (Castillo Petruzzi et al., judgement of 30 May 1999).ţ

It is of urgent concern that more than 30 states across America operate Supermax-like facilities which use 23-hour lockdown and long-term isolation, as a 1999 Department of Justice report found. The study also reported that some states house more than 20 percent of their inmates like this. In view of Manfred NowakÝs report, such practice ýshould be absolutely prohibitedţ.

While the issue of widespread permanent/long-term isolation facilities is sufficiently worrying, there is the equally unsettling phenomenon of political prisoners being unjustifiably transferred to such facilities in absence of due process. Kindly consider here the exemplary case of Imam Jamil Al-Amin, who currently lives under permanent 23-hour solitary confinement at ColoradoÝs USP Florence ADMAX, which has been dubbed as both the ýGuantanamo Bay of the mainlandţ and ýa clean version of hellţ. Al-Amin did not have any federal charges or convictions, and had a pending habeas corpus in Georgia, his home state and that of his conviction. In fact, even the Georgia State Prison at Reidsville had been likewise holding Al-Amin under 23-solitary confinement in spite of him not having any violations which could warrant it.

Both the basis of Al-AminÝs 23-solitary confinement at Reidsville and that of his transfer to a permanent-lockdown federal facility are being challenged by Al-AminÝs defence. However, just as being transferred over a thousand miles from his legal defence would naturally hinder his pending habeas and other appeals, the 23-hour lock-down is literally torture.

If torturing terrorism-suspects, as you have clearly expressed, is a betrayal of core American values, we urge you upon your taking office to take appropriate and necessary actions toward ending the widespread use of long-term and permanent solitary confinement in American prisons.

Sincerely,


Massoud Shadjareh
Chair

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For more information please contact the Press Office on (+44) 20 8904 4222 or (+44) 7515 029560 email info@ihrc.org.[ENDS]

Note to Editors:

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InMP2e7w5GM
[2] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5579901
[3] http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/48db99e82.html
[4] http://www.barackobama.com/2008/02/05/remarks_of_senator_barack_obam_46.php

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