Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What About Closing Angola, Mr. Obama: Torture at a Louisiana Prison

January 27, 2009

What About Closing Angola, Mr. Obama?
Torture at a Louisiana Prison


The torture of prisoners in US custody is not only found in military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. If President Obama is serious about ending US support for torture, he can start here in Louisiana.

The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola is already notorious for a range of offenses, including keeping former Black Panthers Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, in solitary for over 36 years. Now a death penalty trial in St. Francisville, Louisiana has exposed widespread and systemic abuse at the prison. Even in the context of eight years of the Bush administration, the behavior documented at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola stands out both for its brutality and for the significant evidence that it was condoned and encouraged from the very top of the chain of command.

In a remarkable hearing that explored torture practices at Angola, twenty-five inmates testified last summer to facing overwhelming violence in the aftermath of an escape attempt at the prison nearly a decade ago. These twenty-five inmates - who were not involved in the escape attempt - testified to being kicked, punched, beaten with batons and with fists, stepped on, left naked in a freezing cell, and threatened that they would be killed. They were threatened by guards that they would be sexually assaulted with batons. They were forced to urinate and defecate on themselves. They were bloodied, had teeth knocked out, were beaten until they lost control of bodily functions, and beaten until they signed statements or confessions presented to them by prison officials. One inmate had a broken jaw, and another was placed in solitary confinement for eight years.

While prison officials deny the policy of abuse, the range of prisoners who gave statements, in addition to medical records and other evidence introduced at the trial, present a powerful argument that abuse is a standard policy at the prison. Several of the prisoners received $7,000 when the state agreed to settle, without admitting liability, two civil rights lawsuits filed by 13 inmates. The inmates will have to spend that money behind bars –more than 90% of Angola's prisoners are expected to die behind its walls.

Systemic Violence

During the attempted escape at Angola, in which one guard was killed and two were taken hostage, a team of officers - including Angola warden Burl Cain - rushed in and began shooting, killing one inmate, Joel Durham, and wounding another, David Mathis.

The prison has no official guidelines for what should happen during escape attempts or other crises, a policy that seems designed to encourage the violent treatment documented in this case. Richard Stalder, at that time the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, was also at the prison at the time. Yet despite – or because of - the presence of the prison warden and head of corrections for the state, guards were given free hand to engage in violent retribution. Cain later told a reporter after the shooting that Angola's policy was not to negotiate, saying, ''That's a message all the inmates know. They just forgot it. And now they know it again.''

Five prisoners – including Mathis - were charged with murder, and currently are on trial, facing the death penalty – partially based on testimony from other inmates that was obtained through beatings and torture. Mathis is represented by civil rights attorneys Jim Boren (who also represented one of the Jena Six youths) and Rachel Connor, with assistance from Nola Investigates, an investigative firm in New Orleans that specializes in defense for capital cases.

The St. Francisville hearing was requested by Mathis' defense counsel to demonstrate that, in the climate of violence and abuse, inmates were forced to sign statements through torture, and therefore those statements should be inadmissible. 20th Judicial District Judge George H. Ware Jr. ruled that the documented torture and abuse was not relevant. However, the behavior documented in the hearing not only raises strong doubts about the cases against the Angola Five, but it also shows that violence against inmates has become standard procedure at the prison.

The hearing shows a pattern of systemic abuse so open and regular, it defies the traditional excuse of bad apples. Inmate Doyle Billiot testified to being threatened with death by the guards, "What's not to be afraid of? Got all these security guards coming around you everyday looking at you sideways, crazy and stuff. Don't know what's on their mind, especially when they threaten to kill you." Another inmate, Robert Carley testified that a false confession was beaten out of him. ""I was afraid," he said. "I felt that if I didn't go in there and tell them something, I would die."

Inmate Kenneth "Geronimo" Edwards testified that the guards "beat us half to death." He also testified that guards threatened to sexually assault him with a baton, saying, "that's a big black…say you want it." Later, Edwards says, the guards, "put me in my cell. They took all my clothes. Took my jumpsuit. Took all the sheets, everything out the cell, and put me in the cell buck-naked…It was cold in the cell. They opened the windows and turned the blowers on." At least a dozen other inmates also testified to receiving the same beatings, assault, threats of sexual violence, and "freezing treatment."

Some guards at the prison treated the abuse as a game. Inmate Brian Johns testified at the hearing that, "one of the guards was hitting us all in the head. Said he liked the sound of the drums – the drumming sound that – from hitting us in the head with the stick."

Solitary Confinement

Two of Angola's most famous residents, political prisoners Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, have become the primary example of another form of abuse common at Angola – the use of solitary confinement as punishment for political views. The two have now each spent more than 36 years in solitary, despite the fact that a judge recently overturned Woodfox's conviction (prison authorities continue to hold Woodfox and have announced plans to retry him). Woodfox and Wallace – who together with former prisoner King Wilkerson are known as the Angola Three - have filed a civil suit against Angola, arguing that their confinement has violated both their 8th amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment and 4th amendment right to due process.

Recent statements by Angola warden Burl Cain makes clear that Woodfox and Wallace are being punished for their political views. At a recent deposition, attorneys for Woodfox asked Cain, "Lets just for the sake of argument assume, if you can, that he is not guilty of the murder of Brent Miller." Cain responded, "Okay. I would still keep him in (solitary)…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...He has to stay in a cell while he's at Angola."

In addition to Cain's comments, Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell has said the case against the Angola Three is personal to him. Statements like this indicate that this vigilante attitude not only pervades New Orleans' criminal justice system, but that the problem comes from the very top.

The problem is not limited to Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola – similar stories can be found in prisons across the US. But from the abandonment of prisoners in Orleans Parish Prison during Katrina to the case of the Jena Six, Louisiana's criminal justice system, which has the highest incarceration rate in the world, often seems to be functioning under plantation-style justice. Most recently, journalist A.C. Thompson, in an investigation of post-Katrina killings, found evidence that the New Orleans police department supported vigilante attacks against Black residents of New Orleans after Katrina.

Torture and abuse is illegal under both US law – including the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment - and international treaties that the US is signatory to, from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ratified in 1992). Despite the laws and treaties, US prison guards have rarely been held accountable to these standards.

Once we say that abuse or torture is ok against prisoners, the next step is for it to be used in the wider population. A recent petition for administrative remedies filed by Herman Wallace states, "If Guantanamo Bay has been a national embarrassment and symbol of the U.S. government's relation to charges, trials and torture, then what is being done to the Angola 3… is what we are to expect if we fail to act quickly…The government tries out it's torture techniques on prisoners in the U.S. – just far enough to see how society will react. It doesn't take long before they unleash their techniques on society as a whole." If we don't stand up against this abuse now, it will only spread.

Despite the hearings, civil suits, and other documentation, the guards who performed the acts documented in the hearing on torture at Angola remain unpunished, and the system that designed it remains in place. In fact, many of the guards have been promoted, and remain in supervisory capacity over the same inmates they were documented to have beaten mercilessly. Warden Burl Cain still oversees Angola. Meanwhile, the trial of the Angola Five is moving forward, and those with the power to change the pattern of abuse at Angola remain silent.

Jordan Flaherty is a journalist based in New Orleans, and an editor of Left Turn Magazine. He can be reached at

Research assistance for this article by Emily Ratner.


James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

McCain and Affiliates Attempt Our Murder To Silenc Online Protest Of Profiling Attack
McCain and Affiliates Attempt Our Murder To Silenc Online Protest Of Profiling Attack
(Lesley Hughes Canadian Dimension Magazine:lesleyhughes(at);
Roch Tasse International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group Ottawa 613 245 5298 ;rocht(at)iclmg(dot)ca Aaron James:
Aaron James and his mother Linda, were attacked on board McCain affiliated Northwest Airlines Jan 18/06. They had come as Canadians to the U.S. to seek treatment at the Mayo clinic for an injury. Aaron was attacked by 5 airport police on the aircraft –after having passed through security without issue- subsequent to his mother being accused of a suspicious bag. It was a retaliatory response to the James’s having issued complaint to Northwest having had their baggage withheld from them 3 days earlier on their trip down to the U.S. The airline stated the baggage had simply been misplaced. In fact, delivered to their hotel 3 hours later, it stated the baggage had been searched due to security concerns- they had been racially profiled.
That airport has had several profiling attacks since including attacks upon the 6 Imams, and David Orsack, violinist for MN Opera. Northwest Airlines has been sued by the ACLU.

Noting threats the James have received from FBI regarding McCAin (Senator John McCain Sends Threats), McCain has Northwest Airlines as the top two clientele along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for his executive legal council and Northwest was the official air carrier for the McCain campaign.
Barack Obama Highlights Northwest Air McCain Ties
also:http:/ Read MORE- HERE

After the airline attack, they were placed through months of illegal covert terror tactics by agencies including FBI CIA and NSA : phone tapping , silent listener calls, stalking , threatening messages on answering machines, sabotaged legal mail – Sept 11/2007 his line was cut by MTS the phone company, to deliver a message they conjecture. Family friends and associates were all targeted in order to isolate the intended victims (Aaron and his mother) as part of FBI Co-Intel mandate of psy-ops character assassination intimidation and isolation .
The James’s were placed through a secret trial with members and affiliates of FBI CIA NSA and military on the Jury Pool and sent home on the no fly list by bus where more intimidation awaited.
The government of Canada was of no assistance, Canadian consulate merely stating “let us know if you’re tortured yet we will not get involved – this is a U.S. affair- Online material was found indicating the Canadian Consulate is legally required to see to the safety of Canadians abroad and they have been criminally negligent in the matter. Small wonder – the James’s are not their first sacrifice to save face with the U.S. – Globe and Mail 2007 May 10 “Ottawa sacrificed Arar to save face with Syria and the United States- the government fought like blazes to keep you from reading this…” see
Finding their names had been placed on, the James put up online disclosure of their account fearing for their life, given government abandon.

On Oct 27/07 James home was raided without warrant or charges, by police These same police are now criminally charged with perjury and illegal entry in separate cases. James personal possessions were stolen as well as intellectual property used to create online material regarding the ordeal.
James was held illegally without food or water, while police taunted about kidnapping, touting , “Minneapolis says it has unfinished business with you…” Police attempted to abduct James to the United States in Minneapolis, but were prevented by the attendance of journalist Lesley Hughes of Canadian Dimension magazine, who confronted them at their station, whereupon police then suggested they were simply administering to a disturb the peace charge- but were only then just aware that it had ‘expired’. In fact there had been no disturb the peace charge and authority to come to one’s home no less get a warrant for a raid, is not provided under law pertaining to ‘disturb the peace’.

The raid was done openly and admittedly –though unlawfully- at the behest of Minneapolis Police, and many subsequent attempts have transpired since, in violation of the charter of rights.

Northworst ” Sends GOON SQUADS to effect our kidnapping in affiliation with McCain “eWatch’s Skinner says Northwest is now using eWatch to help it target —
for reeducation — the most teed-off of its fed-up fliers
Now, Companies Can Track Down Their Cyber-Critics -GANG STALKING(click)
BW Online | July 7, 2000 | Now, Companies Can Track Down Their Cyber-Critics

The Winnpeg police, claim no affiliation with Minneapolis or intent of harm or legal involvement with the James’s despite the above activities and background of the Winnipeg Police Chief -Chief McCaskill

"Keith McCaskill is a graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) National Academy,... representing law enforcement from...Minnesota
(*where Aaron James and his mother were attacked ... and Manitoba (site of Winnipeg Police murder /kidnapping attempts)

Despite their denials, a Winnipeg police officer not in the loop admitted to James’ attorney that James belongings were sent to the U.S. in Minneapolis.
Winnipeg police refuse to give out his name.
Winnipeg police have been at James residence multiple times to see about his kidnapping ,once instance now caught with witnesses video taped testimony.

Threats unto James AND HIS MOTHER pertaining to abduction U.S. martials and FBI are referenced in the police notes!
Again, the police are criminally charged of their own accord .

CIA and FBI are involved in the attempts:
FBI agent sent a threatening message referencing McCain in the ongoing kidnapping attempts.
CIA agent Barbara Hartwell called in to intimidate James at 23min:30sec into this mp3 after James mentioned
Her name at 12:30 minutes.
FBI put out a radical Jihad Al-Queada spoof website and made several copies which James found
And sent to Roche Tasse Sept 27/08 announcing that this placed him in serious danger.
James was then kidnapped on Oct 27/08.
These same websites appeared in Winnipeg Police notes- along with references to U.S. Marshals kidnapping and more –including threats upon James mother!

Liberal Leader Stephan Dion’s promises of assistance to the James family were IGNORED as EXPOSED BY ACTIVISTS AS SEEN IN THIS PDF
Liberal Leader Dion Exposed in Negligence/Our Case (CLICK FULL SCREEN TO VIEW CLEARLY)
AND James website outreach to his executive assistant Gian Luca Cairo and Dan McTeague Critic for Canadians abroad, also ignored. LETTER TO DAN MC TEAGUE CONSULAR CRITIC and this, despite Police abduction attempts by criminally charged police Prince George Citizen - Four Winnipeg police officers facing charges, job status under review and threats unto James AND HIS MOTHER pertaining to abduction U.S. martials and FBI referenced in the police notes!

Wpg Police Notes Threats McCain's Murderous Attempts Exposed - Reports, Periodicals & Reports, and 911

The Manitoba Courts under Judge Linda M. Giesbrecht are in collusion with the police in order to cover up the evidence such that James intellectual property illegally seized could be used in yet another secret trial against him in the United States should kidnapping occur.
Having originally ordered that the police must return James stolen belongings, now the original Judge , judge Linda Giesbrecht, claims that although yes, a court transcript of such an order was provided, she did not actually sign a court order,- and yet the Crown sent email to our attorney ,indicating that the police ought to act on the COURT ORDER for the return of property documents and any other possessions-since it was illegal.
Visit: McCain Northwest Air Affiliation Profiling Attack

James F. Marino said...

Aaron James was racially profiled by the FBI and is now being attacked for Intel for exposing their attempts to cover up the racial profiling which has become a common problem with federal,state and local police since long before the 9-11 false flag operation.

The greater the exposure of the James case, the better the chance that Intel will back off and leave the James Family alone.

James F. Marino