Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

A Little Torture

Posted in Barack Obama, law, politics, prison, torture, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on April 17, 2009

justice“There is no such thing as a little torture.” — Alfred M. McCoy, author of A Question of Torture

The Bush administration is really an impressive force of nature. Whenever I was absolutely certain that their dastardly deeds couldn’t possibly get any more nefarious, Dick Cheney shot a family friend in the face, or George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to invade another country. When they finally left office, I assumed they couldn’t harm America’s reputation ever again.

I was wrong. The Justice Department finally made the infamous memos that sanctioned torture public this week. The details are horrific. Not only are barbaric measures like “walling” (slamming a person into a wall,) and stress positions deemed acceptable by legal experts, but also more inventive interrogation methods like placing live bugs in a confinement box (and telling the prisoner they’ll sting him). 

Politicians repeatedly regurgitate the fairy tale that America is a Nation of Laws. Except, the laws get broken all the time, and the archetypes of anarchy usually aren’t held accountable. Barack Obama has sought to reassure CIA operates, who participated in torture, that they can use the same defense Nazis could not use during Nuremberg. Namely, that they were just “following orders.”

This doesn’t bode well for justice enthusiasts, who hoped that maybe (just maybe) the Big Guys would be help accountable this time. That maybe John Yoo, Douglas Feith, Jay Bybee, Dick Cheney, David Addington, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and William Haynes would have to stand before the American people and explain why they thought sanctioning torture was acceptable.

That maybe they would finally have to explain why a little torture was okay.

We are a nation of laws only if the people in charge get to benefit from the rulings. We are a nation of laws only up until Lynndie England, but justice stops short of Donald Rumsfeld. We are a nation of laws for thieves and crooks, but justice can’t touch Goldman Sachs CEOs. The hypocrisy is rampant. It infests every facet of the justice system, and has left us with a broken two-tier system of justice.

The debate over torture is frequently aimed at Guantanamo. However, the problem is also domestic, although the victims are still the unprivileged. While the United States is home to just five percent of the world’s population, it contains 25% of the world’s prisoners. More than one in 100 adults are in prison. Most of those prisoners aren’t homicidal sociopaths. They’re nonviolent drug offenders. America is the only western industrialized country to still use the death penalty, but apparently injecting someone will a chemical that paralyzes their organs doesn’t constitute torture, even though the Nazis used the same method. Those that live inside our prison-industrial complex experience a form of torture every day. Prisoners face the threat of rape and are more likely to contract H.I.V., hepatitis and tuberculosis. 

This kind of domestic torture is frequently overlooked because it’s the “right people” suffering. Bad guys. Bottom-tier justice types: poor people, immigrants, people of color. And after all, it’s only a little torture. Terrorists and criminals deserve whatever happens to them. Waterboarding doesn’t even count as torture! It’s just a light spritz in the face! (Of course, even Bush’s own legal team knew it was torture and expressed their concern in footnote form.)

This cartoonish, simplified scope of reality would be laughable had it not been the ideologies held by the Bush administration for eight years. Innocent people are accused of crimes all the time. That’s why our smart ancestors put in place that whole “justice system” in the first place. Ya’ know, that thing about being able to face one’s accusers and present evidence to defend one’s self.

If justice is to come to Guantanamo (and it should,) it must also come to the United State’s domestic prisons where draconian drug laws continue case overcrowding and strain stark resources, which then breeds inhumane conditions. If justice is to come to torture victims, it must mean than the archetypes of the torture memos will stand beside the CIA agents that carried out the orders.

The American two-tier justice system must end, and a good start would be for the Obama administration to recognize that a little torture is never okay, no matter who is doing it.

Help End Rockefeller Drug Laws

Posted in prison, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on March 13, 2009

NYCLU

12036314_400x400_frontIt’s Finally Happening

New York must reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws

The Rockefeller Drug Laws, enacted in 1973, mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of small amounts of drugs. Intended to target drug kingpins, most of the people incarcerated under these laws are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses. Many of the thousands of New Yorkers in prison under these laws suffer from substance abuse problems; many others struggle with issues related to homelessness, mental illness or unemployment.

The Rockefeller Drug Laws create stark racial disparities in prison populations and exact an enormous financial toll on all of New York State.

After 36 years, the chance for true reform of these laws is greater this year than it ever has been.

On March 4, the New York State Assembly passed a strong reform bill, the first step on the road to a new direction for New York.

The same progressive bill has now been introduced in the New York State Senate where it faces a much tougher road to passage. Many senators have been intimidated by the scare tactics and misrepresentations of prosecutors who don’t want to give up their power over New Yorkers’ lives. And recent media reports suggest that Governor Paterson, who was once the strongest champion of Rockefeller reform, wants to cut a deal to put a band-aid on these fundamentally broken laws. What we need is real reform, not piecemeal fixes.

Send a free fax to your senators and to Governor Paterson urging them to put 36 years of failed Rockefeller Drug Laws behind us, once and for all. Tell the Senate to pass S.2855, and tell the Governor to sign it into law.

To find out more information about the Rockefeller Drug Laws, click here.

Tell me more

Talking Points

– For 36 years, the Rockefeller Drug Laws have done nothing to stop drug abuse or help people struggling to overcome addiction in New York. Public health experts agree there is a better way: treatment and rehabilitation.

– The Rockefeller Drug Laws have created unconscionable racial disparities. While 72 percent of New Yorkers who have used illegal drugs are white, more than 90 percent of people incarcerated for drug offenses in New York State are black or Latino.

– The Rockefeller Drug Laws have destroyed lives, families, neighborhoods and whole communities for decades. More than 25,000 children have been orphaned by our state’s drug laws. Sixty percent of people who have been incarcerated can’t find work a year after release.

– New York State could save $267 million annually by treating and rehabilitating those who need it. Our state can’t afford the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

– Judges must have the authority to do what they think is best in the interest of justice and public safety. Mandatory minimum sentences bust be eliminated and judges must have the option of sending people to drug treatment and rehabilitation instead of prison.

– New York State needs alternatives to incarceration programs in every county in the State. Experts agree: Some drug users need mental health services, treatment, education, and job-training programs instead of a jail cell.

SIGN THE LETTER HERE

Immigration Enforcement Gone Bad

Posted in immigration, politics, prison by allisonkilkenny on February 22, 2009

New York Times

09The failures of the immigration system are many and severe, but the main problem is not that the country is catching too few undocumented immigrants. It is catching too many. Since the early 1990s, you could write the federal government’s immigration strategy on a cardboard sign: Deport Them All.

A report last week from the Pew Hispanic Center laid bare some striking results of that campaign. It found that Latinos now make up 40 percent of those sentenced in federal courts, even though they are only about 13 percent of the adult population. They accounted for one-third of federal prison inmates in 2007.

The numbers might suggest we are besieged by immigrant criminals. But of all the noncitizen Latinos sentenced last year, the vast majority — 81 percent — were convicted for unlawfully entering or remaining in the country, neither of which is a criminal offense.

The country is filling the federal courts and prisons with nonviolent offenders. It is diverting immense law-enforcement resources from pursuing serious criminals — violent thugs, financial scammers — to an immense, self-defeating campaign to hunt down … workers.

The Pew report follows news this month that even as a federal program to hunt immigrant fugitives saw its budget soar — to $218 million last year from $9 million in 2003 — its mission went astray. According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, of the 72,000 people arrested through last February, 73 percent had no criminal record. Border Patrol agents in California and Maryland, meanwhile, tell of pressure to arrest workers at day-labor corners and convenience stores to meet quotas.

The country needs to control its borders. It needs to rebuild an effective immigration system and thwart employers who cheat it. It needs to bring the undocumented forward and make citizen taxpayers of them.

For all the billions spent on fences, raids, patrols and prisons, the number of illegal immigrants has steadily grown to about 12 million last year from four million in 1992. So has the need to overhaul the many parts of a festering, broken system: to clear out backlogs in legal immigration, to rescue families from limbo, to throw sunlight on the shadow economy, to deter unlawful hiring, to replace chaos with lawfulness and order. All those priorities have languished in the deportation era.