The UN Committee against Torture Asked U.S. about Long Term Solitary Confinement and Lack of Access to Medical Care

Update Type: 

By Jihad Abdulmumit*

On Tuesday, November 11, 2014, the UN Special Committeeon Torture at the 53rd Session of the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) in Geneva, Switzerland asked many penetrating and provocative questions to the United States government. Among these questions were those inquiring about long term solitary confinement and denial of adequate medical care and attention, both of which, directly impacts the state of political prisoners as raised in Efia Nwangaza** and Jihad Abdulmumit’s Shadow Reports.

More specifically, about solitary confinement, UN Commissioners asked under what conditions would someone be confined to “long term” solitary confinement? What would be the purpose besides mental or physical harm and abuse? What are the rules and limitations? How does long term solitary confinement not fall within the purview of the US signed on Convention against Torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment?
This line of questioning on the record lends itself to political prisoners, such as Albert Woodfox and Russell Shoats, who either has been or presently are in long term solitary confinement.

In relation to lack of medical care and attention, they asked, what assurances are there that a doctor or physician’s assistant in a jail or prison does not relinquish his or her professional responsibilities under the pressure and intimidation of a prison administration? What is the standard of medical training in a prison situation? Can an inmate have access to an outside doctor to access her medical needs and balance that assessment juxtaposition to the medical diagnosis of the doctor in prison? If not, then, why not?

On Thursday, November 13, 2014, after the US government’s unsatisfying response, the UN Committee followed with another round of even more penetrating questions. During the US government’s response, young and courageous students from Chicago – “We Charge Genocide” – stood up with raised clenched fists, then holding each other’s hands high in unity for the duration of America’s responses. This powerful display of unity, protest and representation of the issues of racial police violence against Blacks in Chicago (and elsewhere), abusive use of Tasers, and no oversight and prosecution of police perpetrators of violence carried the day and captured the spirit of people in this CAT review.

The United States Human Rights Network did a phenomenal job in organizing the Review, and providing a network and mechanism for people from all over the U.S. – young and old, Black and White, victims and advocates – to present issues on the international stage. However, everyone must realize that whether an issue is heard or not, the lion’s share of the work is on stateside.

Let the cries of the oppressed be heard!

* Jihad Abdulmumit is a former Black Panther political prisoner
**Efia Nwangaza is Director of the Malcolm X Center for Self-Determination