Torture by Solitary confinement is a form of imprisonment in which an inmate is isolated from any human contact except for members of the prison staff for at least 22 hours a day.
By Eileen Fleming
Last week, New York Times reporter Erica Goode wrote:
I’ve been covering solitary confinement on and off for the last three or four years and have watched the growing opposition to its widespread use with interest. Isolation was popular in the late 19th century. At the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, for example, inmates were kept in profound isolation to encourage self-reflection and remorse, and hooded whenever they left their cells. But in 1890, Justice Samuel Freeman Miller of the Supreme Court denounced solitary confinement, saying it too often led to mental illness “after even a short confinement…
My Comment to The New York Times which they did NOT publish:
This reporter became interested in state torture by solitary confinement in 2005 after meeting Israel’s Nuclear Whistle Blower Mordechai Vanunu, who spent nearly 12 years out of an 18 year sentence in solitary [and another 78 days in 2010!] In this 2006 video interview Vanunu speaks about state torture by solitary confinement:
In 1993, social psychologist Craig Haney began studying the effects of solitary confinement on 56 prisoners, who spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison in California. When Haney returned after twenty years later, he found many of the same inmates still suffering alone in their cells.
Haney told The New York Times:
It was shocking…The weight of what they had been through was apparent on them and in them. They were grieving for their lost lives, for their loss of connectedness to the social world and their families outside, and also for their lost selves. Most of them really did understand that they had lost who they were, and weren’t sure of who they had become.
In 1993, the prisoners Dr. Haney interviewed reported high rates of depression, irrational anger, confused thinking, and stress symptoms like dizziness and sweating hands.
When he returned to Pelican Bay two decades later, Dr. Haney learned they suffered many of the same symptoms noting, “The passage of time had not significantly ameliorated their pain.”
Dr. Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist and an expert on prison mental health issues, interviewed former Pelican Bay inmates and learned that even years after their release, many still carried the psychological legacy of their confinement.
A released prisoner compared an inmate in long-term isolation to a dog kept in a kennel for 10 years stating, “Let that dog out of that cage and see how many people it bites. I don’t understand why people can’t understand that concept. It’s simple.”
In 2002, President Bush declared U.S. citizen, Jose Padilla an enemy combatant; he was stripped of all rights and detained at a Navy brig in South Carolina where he was held in solitary isolation for 43 months and denied access to an attorney for two years.
In 2006, Forensic Psychiatrist Angela Hegarty examined Padilla and concluded the extreme isolation and torture had caused brain damage and “What happened at the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being’s mind.”
On 18 October 2011, United Nations expert on torture Juan Méndez called on all countries to ban the solitary confinement of prisoners [except in very exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible] with an absolute prohibition in the case of juveniles and people with mental disabilities stating:
Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique.
Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period…
Mendez added that indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should also be subject to an absolute prohibition, citing scientific studies that have established that lasting mental damage can be caused even after a few days of social isolation!
This reporter’s August 8th Letter to The New York Times:
In 2005, I was just an American in Jerusalem writing my first historical fiction but a ‘chance’ encounter with Israel’s Nuclear Whistle Blower Mordechai Vanunu compelled me to become a reporter.
Please view 4 1/2 minutes on YouTube “Mordechai Vanunu Addresses Solitary Confinement“
On 21 Sept., Vanunu’s 8th High Court petition will be heard seeking to end all restrictions that have held him in Israel which began on 21 April 2004 when he was released from 11 1/2 yrs. in solitary confinement with a total of 18 years in prison.
In 1986, Vanunu was convicted of treason and espionage for providing London’s SUNDAY TIMES two rolls of film from top secret locations within Israel’s nuclear facility at Dimona and telling them everything he knew as a technician on the night shift.
Israel also sent Vanunu back to solitary for 78 days in 2010 – outcome of his freedom of speech trial which began 25 January 2006 because one of the restrictions against Vanunu was he not speak to foreigners.
Vanunu turns 61 in October and he wed for the first time on 19 May 2015, to a Norwegian biblical scholar and I am hoping The NYT will report.
- Annual Update for Vanunu Mordechai, Israel’s nuclear whistleblower and Captive - June 6, 2020
- A Covid-19 USS Liberty Remembrance Day - May 29, 2020
- Government Accountability Project and Mordechai Vanunu Google Alerts - March 3, 2020