Solitary Confinement: Possibly Torture, Definitely Hell

Thanks very much to Danielle for her kind introduction, and to her and Dan for inviting me to participate in this blog. This is my inaugural blogging experience, and I’m (somewhat nervously) looking forward to it! Let me start with a brief comment on the story on solitary confinement by Atul Gawande in this past week’s New Yorker. Solitary confinement is practiced on quite a large scale in the United States, especially with the rise of supermax prisons over the past ten or twenty years. Gawande argues that solitary confinement essentially destroys prisoners’ brains. Humans are extremely social animals, and absent regular interaction, our minds deteriorate rapidly and to a surprising degree. Among people detained alone for extended periods, depression and misery are universal, and psychotic breaks are fairly common. Many prisoners of war describe solitary confinement as a worse experience than physical torture. Some prisoners more or less recover after return to ordinary prison or to society; others never do. A number of legal scholars have made similar arguments, and in fact the extreme psychological harm done by solitary confinement was recognized over a century ago by the Supreme Court in In re Medley, 134 U.S. 160 (1890).

Gawande’s article’s subtitle asks: “Is this torture?” Let me assume for a moment that Gawande, who pushes the torture comparison in the body of the piece as well, means that as a serious legal question. The question isn’t frivolous. The answer isn’t a categorical “yes,” but it’s probably not a categorical “no” either–it is plausible that some cases of solitary confinement in the U.S. might qualify as torture under international law. The leading formulation, in the Convention Against Torture, defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted” for certain specified purposes, including punishment. Domestic and international courts have generally interpreted the severity requirement fairly strictly (though not as strictly as some recent US officials have done, to be sure), though certainly the dire picture that Gawande paints suggests that at least some instances of solitary confinement might qualify as severe mental suffering.

Some international authorities have addressed the question directly, and these paint a mixed picture. The European Court of Human Rights has rejected several challenges to solitary confinement under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. However, while denying particular claims, it has stated that solitary confinement is sometimes prohibited depending on the circumstances. Relevant circumstances include the length of the solitary confinement (indefinite length is prohibited), the extremeness of the isolation (“complete sensory isolation, coupled with total social isolation” is categorically prohibited), the reasons for prisoner’s isolation, and whether the prisoner receives appropriate psychological monitoring and treatment. Likewise, the U.N. Human Rights Committee has stated that “prolonged solitary confinement” may violate Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which forbids torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment. In general, an international law theory based on “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” might be an easier sell—it’s similar to torture, but less aggravated, and is also prohibited by international law, although (unlike torture) states are not required to criminalize it.

The CAT definition also specifically says torture “does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to lawful sanctions,” which would seem to exclude solitary confinement in the U.S. criminal justice system. Still, this exclusion is not supposed to be a blank check for mistreatment of criminal detainees. According to the United States’ own stated reservations upon ratification of the CAT, the “lawful sanctions” provision cannot be read to allow governments to use penal law to circumvent the object and purpose of the Convention. See, e.g., Khouzam v. Ashcroft, 361 F.3d 161, 169-70 (2d Cir. 2004)). And in any event, the prohibition on torture and cruel treatment in the ICCPR, to which the U.S. is also party, includes no such qualification.

Meanwhile, the definition of torture in U.S. federal criminal law almost surely does not apply for a different reason. It covers mental suffering only when that suffering is triggered by (1) physical harm or a threat thereof; (2) drugging “or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses of the personality”; (3) threat of imminent death; or (4) threats to others. Solitary confinement may “disrupt profoundly the senses of the personality,” but it is probably not a “procedure calculated” to do so, at least not within the sense probably contemplated by the statute’s drafters. (Note that U.S. constitutional arguments might be more persuasive, especially to U.S. courts, which are not known for their enthusiastic embrace of international human rights arguments. Over at Sentencing Law and Policy, Doug Berman has a recent post asking why there aren’t more constitutional lawyers challenging supermax confinement.)

All that said, of course, this legal question about torture isn’t really the main point of the article—Gawande isn’t suggesting that prison officials be brought up on torture charges, but rather that we rethink the policy of throwing tens of thousands of prisoners each year into solitary confinement. Perhaps solitary confinement is necessary to incapacitate certain highly dangerous, otherwise uncontrollable prisoners, but if Gawande’s picture is accurate, most of those currently in solitary don’t fall into that category. Some are there because of routine disciplinary violations committed while in ordinary prison, for instance. Indeed, Gawande says that most prison officials themselves believe solitary is used excessively, and would reduce reliance on it but for political pressures. And as illustrated by studies of solitary confinement in Britain in the 1970s, the practice is starkly at odds with the objective of rehabilitation, often rendering prisoners completely incapable of functioning in normal society or even in a normal prison upon return—and not all prisoners in solitary are serving life sentences there, so rehabilitation is a relevant concern.

Gawande’s article probably won’t surprise many scholars and practitioners of criminal law very much (indeed, some have been decrying solitary confinement for years). It’s one more illustration of the consequences, unintended or otherwise, of our often harshly overpunitive criminal justice system. But I still think it’s worth a read, and I’m hoping it finds a broad audience.

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19 Responses

  1. “In general, an international law theory based on ‘cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment’ might be an easier sell—it’s similar to torture, but less aggravated, and is also prohibited by international law, although (unlike torture) states are not required to criminalize it.”

    And “U.S. constitutional arguments might be more persuasive….”

    Indeed, and alas, these two coalesce in the United States government’s reservation to CAT, which stipulate that the former means “the cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.”

    In War Crimes and Just War (2007), Larry May has done some marvelous work on explaining the principle of humane treatment (which he traces back to Grotius) as the “least discussed, and yet arguably the most important, principle of humanitarian international law and the corresponding war crimes law” that fills out the minimalist moral principles animating the international law prohibition against “cruel treatment” and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment” (Rome Statute of the ICC).

    Constitutional language on this score is, as Jeremy Waldron reminds us, no less evaluative or any more determinate. For an excellent discussion of the meaning of this language, please see Waldon’s paper, “Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment: The Words Themselves,” available at SSRN: (Among the many interesting points of Waldron’s article is the distinction between “inhumane” conduct and “inhuman” conduct, and why we should prefer the use of the latter expression to the former.)

    Thanks for posting on a topic of pressing and unavoidable moral and legal importance, however much neglected, as you note, outside criminal justice and law circles.

  2. Incidentally, those relatively new to the topic of solitary confinement could do worse than consult Daniel Brook’s article, “History of Hard Time: Solitary Confinement, Then and Now.” Legal Affairs (January/February 2003). Available: 2003/review_brook_janfeb2003.msp

    as well as the book he cites there: Lorna A. Rhodes’ Total Confinement: Madness and Reason in the Maximum Security Prison. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004.

  3. Sonja Starr says:

    Thanks, Patrick, and great point re: the US’s reservation on cruel and degrading treatment–I should have pointed that out. In any case, this reminds me that I should clarify: I didn’t mean to suggest that litigants would actually succeed in US courts on a “cruel and degrading treatment” theory, or for that matter on a torture theory. (In addition to US courts’ general hostility to IL claims, to which I refer above, and the reservation on cruel treatment, courts have also held that the CAT and ICCPR are non-self-executing.) I just meant to address whether the US’s practice of solitary confinement might violate international legal standards against torture and cruel treatment more broadly, i.e., as interpreted by authorities in the rest of the world. More of an academic inquiry, I guess, though I would hope, perhaps naively, that that possibility might count for something as a political argument against the practice.

  4. Sonja Starr says:

    Or, I suppose, there’s also the possibility that some US judges/justices might look to the case law of the ECtHR, etc., in interpreting US constitutional standards, as in Roper….

  5. A.W. says:

    *Rolls eyes* yes by all means lets make being a prisoner an enjoyable thing. Fun even. I mean, what on earth have you done to deserve this? Oh right, *that.* /sarcasm

    Thaddeus Stevens once said, paraphrase, “there is a perverse sentiment, some call it sympathy, that has more sympathy for the murderer on the gallows than for his victim.” And that is written all over this post.

    Hell, long before i would worry about a person being put in solitary too much, i might worry about the rampant rape going on in prison. So even on the issue of being nice to bad people, the priorities are wrong.

    And as for the complaint that they didn’t do anything so bad to deserve this “torture” well, what exactly do you want to do to these people? They are in prison. Should they spank them instead? send them to bed without supper? And as Guilaini demonstrated small amounts of lawlessness can quickly lead to rampant lawlessness. His broken windows approach to law enforcement did what most people thought was impossible: he got NYC under control. so maybe we shouldn’t be so dismissive of coming down hard on little things, especially with a group of people who didn’t seem to be controllable by ordinary incentives.

  6. salamander says:

    Hell, long before i would worry about a person being put in solitary too much, i might worry about the rampant rape going on in prison. So even on the issue of being nice to bad people, the priorities are wrong.

    AW, you need to read the Gawande article before you start commenting. Solitary confinement could be worse than rape or assault — it literally drives prisoners insane, and some will never recover. Furthermore, Gawande notes that the idea that you need solitary confinementn to manage prisons has been proven incorrect in other countries, which manage their inmate populations safely without solitary. Unless you in fact *do* believet that its ok to torture prisoners (no matter what their crime) then it’s hard to understand what you mean here by suggesting that Gawande is trying to “make being a prisoner an enjoyable thing.”

  7. A.W. says:


    We should worry about solitary confinement more than prison rape…

    Riiight. Sorry, but i would much rather be all by myself than some guy’s girlfriend, all things being equal. I think 99% of the public would say the same thing.

    And gee, if solitary is such an awful thing, you know, maybe those prisoners will stop doing things that get them sent there. Just a thought.

    Really, I am sorry but this is just whiney. “Oh, the poor prisoners. They are alone.” Sorry, don’t care *at all.* Prison is supposed to be unpleasant, so you don’t do the things that get you sent there. And the “time out box” you send the prisoners to when they can’t even act right in prison should be even more unpleasant, so that again, you don’t do the things that get you sent there.

    We are becoming such a culture of wimps, unable to recognize that to protect the innocent, you sometimes have to be hard on the guilty.

  8. M.R. says:

    Great post. Gawande also makes the point that most people subjected to solitary confinement while incarcerated eventually do rejoin society, carrying with them their host of newly-acquired demons from the experience. That may be reason enough for some as to why we should care about treatment of prisoners. Have any successful causes of action been brought by currently or formerly incacerated individuals for permanent or extreme psychological effects after solitary?

  9. Alex Reinert says:

    Great post, Sonja. It is worth noting that there have been and continue to be plenty of challenges to solitary confinement by prisoners’ rights litigators. Some of the claims are for damages wrought by the solitary confinement (e.g., mental illness or, in many cases, suicide), and others seek to restrict the use of solitary confinement for particular groups of prisoners, such as the mentally ill. See, e.g., Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F. Supp. 1146 (N.D. Cal. 1995).

    As one might expect, however, there are lots of barriers to successfully litigating these claims. On the damages side, there are complex issues of causation and qualified immunity, along with the “physical injury” requirement of the PLRA, and that is just the beginning. And on the injunctive side, finding plaintiffs with standing can be difficult. And meeting the Eighth Amendment standard enunciated in Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337 (1981), which requires that prison conditions result in deprivations of basic human needs before they can be declared unconstitutional, can be difficult when not all prisoners in solitary confinement manifest a deteriorating mental condition.

    Prisoners also can bring procedural due process challenges to their confinement in solitary, but only where the conditions in solitary are “atypical and significant” in comparison to normal prison life (from Sandin v. Connor). In some circuits, this means that the plaintiff’s conditions in solitary must be particularly bad as compared with *other* solitary housing units (in other circuits, the comparison is to general population). In any event, even when prisoners can show that the conditions they experience are atypical and significant, they can only gain relief under Sandin if there was some procedural defect in the hearing that led to the imposition of the solitary sentence.

    All this is to say that there is plenty of litigation under the Eighth Amendment regarding solitary and the lengthy solitary sentences being imposed in our state prisons. My own experience is that prisoners’ rights litigators have not relied much on international standards because the Eighth Amendment is thought to speak so clearly (though arguably insufficiently, given the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Amendment) to conditions in prison — I know people have given it some thought. But I, for one, have suggested (in an symposium piece I would link to if I had the technological wherewithal) that a focus on the proportionality of solitary confinement sentences might be a way to incorporate international norms more explicitly in such challenges. In this light, it is interesting to note that Craig Haney and Monal Lynch have documented that most US states long ago rejected the use of solitary confinement as a punishment for crimes, at least in practice if not on paper, in many cases because of the realization that solitary had detrimental psychological effects. See Craig Haney & Monal Lynch, Regulating Prisons of the Future: A Psychological Analysis of Supermax and Solitary Confinement, 23 N.Y.U. REV. L. & SOC. CHANGE 477, 481-88 (1997). Thus, it is worth asking whether prison officials should be given so much discretion in meting out solitary as punishment for violation of prison rules, when legislatures have concluded that the punishment is too cruel to be used for punishing crime.

  10. AYY says:

    Let’s say that solitary confinement has those effects, but what do you do when someone is connected to a gang on the outside and can use his prison contacts or outside contacts to continue his criminal activities? It’s not an unusual situation.

  11. Alex,

    Thanks so much for your informative comment: it’s nice to have someone (in addition to Sonja) weigh in with the requisite expertise on the topic.

    Having found Colin Dayan’s little book, The Story of Cruel and Unusual (2007), in a pile of neglected stuff this evening, I learned that the Prison Litigation Reform Act signed by President Clinton “permits injunctive relief related to prison conditions but erects substantial hurdles that must be negotiated before such relief can be given. Plaintiffs must prove that every member of their group or proposed class has suffered physical injury before claiming mental or emotional injury” (p. 52).

    Dayan’s narrative is compelling:

    “Nowhere does the power of penal law to revoke civil rights and legal capacities become as evident as in the case of solitary confinement. Over the past two and a half decades, an intimate dialogue between courts and prison administrators has normalized what was once the most severe deprivation. The subject is couched in euphemisms: first ‘disciplinary segregation,’ and later, ‘administrative segregation’ (nominally based on security classification rather than wrongdoing). Since prison officials claim that these units are non-punitive [!!!], they are difficult to fight under either the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment.

    Since the 1980s, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the Red Cross, human-rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and civil-rights organizations such as the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, have criticized the darkly authoritarian and abusive conditions of prisons in the United States, focusing on super-maximum imprisonment, when inmates deemed incorrigible are locked down 23 to 24 hours a day, their food delivered through a slot in the steel door of their 80-square-foot cell.

    These supermaxes (also known as ‘special treatment,’ ‘special management,’ ‘special housing,’ or ‘security housing’ units) justify their existence through the typology of a particular kind of prisoner, who has attained the status of ‘the worst of the worst’ [when I read this, Henry Kissinger first came to mind…but of course he remains a free man]. Though assumed to be a threat to prison security, these inmates have often committed no overt act or exhibited any violent behavior behind bars. Segregation decisions are based on status–alleged gang affiliation, for example–not evidence of any infraction of prison rules. In other words, judgments of ‘criminal will’ are made regardless of criminal action; notions about innate character or general disposition largely replace misconduct.”

    Among other things, Dayan is claiming that solitary confinement in our prison system is NOT primarily the result of “punishment for violation of prison rules.”

  12. A.W. says:


    > I learned that the Prison Litigation Reform Act signed by President Clinton “permits injunctive relief related to prison conditions but erects substantial hurdles that must be negotiated before such relief can be given.”

    Right, and it’s a bad thing to limit the ability of judges to overrule people who are actually there on the scene. /sarcasm

    > Since the 1980s, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights

    That’s right, the commission on human rights which regularly lets on dictatorships such as Libya and china has the chutzpah to criticize our prison conditions. But instead of recognizing this as rank propaganda as any rational and patriotic person would, you choose to adhere to the opinions of dictatorships that claim that we are the worst while oddly being much, much worse than us.

    I mean, my God, you are really out of the stereotype catalog, aren’t you? Hating your own country for supposed human rights abuses while defending dictatorships.

    > have criticized the darkly authoritarian and abusive conditions of prisons in the United States

    While not particularly giving a shit about the truly evil crap going on in dictatorships and kleptocracies all over the world. Seriously, it is the lack of perspective that is really galling. Let’s pretend for a moment that solitary confinement is every bit as awful as your hysterics suppose. Even then, American prisons are to Saudi prisons what paper cuts are to decapitation. This “beat up America first and most philosophy” is the most galling, and undermines your entire analysis.

    > who has attained the status of ‘the worst of the worst’ [when I read this, Henry Kissinger first came to mind…but of course he remains a free man].

    Which is the classic Keith Olberman type hysteria where he would name the President of the Unites States (when he is not slapping this label on Katie Couric) “the worst person in the world” while Osama bin Laden still breathed. No, sorry, virtually everyone in a supermax are worse than Kissinger, even if the worst alleged about him was true. But thank you for another window into your seething, hateful mind. Too bad you can’t direct your hate at anyone who truly deserves it, such as serial rapists or dictators.

  13. One more intriguing item.

    While I happen to think that Sonja’s provocative question as to whether or not solitary confinement in U.S. prisons “might violate international legal standards against torture and cruel treatment more broadly, i.e., as interpreted by authorities in the rest of the world,” can be answered in the affirmative, there happens to be another link between the domestic and the international on this subject as related in Sasha Abramsky’s brilliant book, American Furies: Crime, Punishment, and Vengeance in the Age of Mass Imprisonment (2007), and this link is “on the ground” and factual. As Abramsky informs us,

    “Many commentators purported to be shocked by the prisoner-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib. The images of hooded, manacled prisoners being electric-shocked, humiliated, set upon by dogs, and beaten by guards were, pundits and politicians proclaimed, simply un-American. Yet over the decades many of those very techniques have been used, with or without official approval, in prisons throughout the United States, from Quaker penitentiaries to southern chain gangs.”

    And as to the specific exemplification of the link between the domestic and the international:

    “When a messy prisoner-abuse scandal erupted at SCI Greene [i.e., State Correctional Institution at Greene, in the hamlet of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania] in 1998, with dozens of inmates filing suits alleging routine beatings by guards within the Restrictive Housing Unit–a form of hazing for men just admitted to the unit–the town, like so many others faced with prison-abuse scandals in the 1990s, greeted the allegations with stony silence. [….] There was simply no public outrage that systemic human-rights violations might be occurring in the heart of Waynesburg. [….]

    In 2004, as the macabre images and reports from Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison hit the headlines, Waynesburg again found itself in an unwelcome spotlight. For it soon emerged that army reservist Charles Graner, the man implicated most directly in coordinating the violence at the cellblock level in Abu Ghraib, was, in his civilian incarnation, a correctional officer at SCI Greene. Like Graner, who served for several years in the Marines in the 1980s and early 1990s, most guards at SCI Greene had previously served in the military, employed by the Department of Corrections as part of a preferential hiring process for veterans that turned Pennsylvania’s new prisons, like the new prisons throughout most of the country, into virtual preserves for retired military personnel. In the years after 9/11, dozens of SCI Greene staffers were reactivated into the National Guard and Army Reserve units and sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

    Mind you, the fact that “Specialist Charles Graner, and his former fiancée, Specialist Lynndie England, were sentenced to ten years and three years in prison, respectively” (Wikipedia entry on Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse) is simply outrageous in light of the fact that the “torture lawyers” (i.e., John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Steven G. Bradbury, Jack Goldsmith), as well as former President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, among others, including David Addington and George Tenet, have not been criminally prosecuted (see, for example, Jordan J. Paust’s ‘The Absolute Prohibition of Torture and Necessary and Appropriate Sanctions,’ available at SSRN).

  14. A.W. says:


    Well, aren’t you a happy fascist calling on the prosecution of lawyers for giving legal opinions you don’t like?

    And please, there has never been any evidence that Bush or anyone else higher up ordered the treatment at abu ghraib. Sigh. But don’t let facts get in the way of your invective.

  15. As Brian Tamanaha wrote at Balkinization on March 16 and 17 of this year:

    —This article by Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books [April 9, 2009: ends the debate over whether we tortured.

    Danner’s article is based upon a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which interviewed prisoners. The report explicitly concludes that we “tortured” a number of prisoners. But don’t take the ICRC’s word for it. Read the extensive accounts by the prisoners of their treatment and decide for yourself (although they were kept in isolation, their accounts substantially coincide).

    Grotesque is the word that comes to mind to describe our treatment of these fellow humans–from administering bouts of suffocation, to extreme cold, to forced standing in chains for hours on end with their hands above their heads, to terrible beatings.

    As the discussion moves forward, let us at least drop further hypocrisy and doublespeak (A soon to be infamous Bush statement made directly to the American people and the world: “The United States does not torture. It’s against the law, and it’s against our values.”)

    In plain terms, this is what happened: Bush Administration officials, with crucial assistance from top Justice Department lawyers, ordered that prisoners be tortured because they collectively thought it was necessary.

    Torture was and is illegal under domestic and international law (never mind morality). Now the questions revolve around what can or should be done about it.

    But please, no more pretense–no more phony debates about whether our “alternative procedures” amounted to “torture.”

    —There is a lot of debate about what the rule of law means. But everyone agrees, at a minimum, that it means the government is bound by the law, and that government officials are accountable to the law. The essence of the rule of law is that no one is above the law.

    An already substantial and growing body of credible evidence (the latest here) suggests that high level officials in the Bush Administration directed actions that involved a violation of domestic and international laws prohibting torture. The International Committee of the Red Cross has concluded that we have tortured prisoners. Dick Cheney and John Yoo have openly stated that the Bush Administration ordered that selected prisoners be waterboarded. The CIA has destroyed 92 hours of tapes of interrogations.

    This is all well known. Yet people who assert that there should be a criminal investigation of the Bush Administration are shouted down by the right, painted as leftist political extremists out for revenge. Even many liberals shy away from the prospect of a criminal investigation, opting instead for a truth commission, out of fear that the inevitable political backlash will destroy the Obama Administration.

    Until recently, I was one of the latter, with no stomach for pursuing criminal actions against the Bush Administration. A criminal investigation into these matters strikes me as equivalent to walking to the lip of a volcanic crater ominously frothing with lava. There is a real possibility that our past President, Vice-President, Secretary of Defense, Director of the CIA, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and OLC lawyers, among others, engaged in criminal actions. Only a fanatic would embrace the prospect of opening this up to possible prosecution.

    Now it appears we have no choice about the matter–not, anyway, if we are committed to the rule of law. Nixon’s Watergate, Reagan’s Iran-Contra, and Clinton’s perjury, were all criminally investigated for this reason.

    The only discernible difference here is that the illegal conduct at the highest levels of government, if proven true, might be worse in degree and extent than other recent examples. But that is an affirmative reason to investigate, not a reason to take a pass.

    Those who suggest that such an investigation would be political have matters exactly upside-down: given the ample credible evidence that the law has been violated, it would be political to decide to not conduct a criminal investigation.

    To avoid the appearance of politics, the criminal investigation should be run outside the Department of Justice (as in the case of Scooter Libby), and the prosecutor appointed to manage it should be a Republican. Many career prosecutors are committed to upholding the law.

    This is gut check time for America and our commitment to the rule of law.

  16. A.W. says:

    First, Patty, even if (big IF) those lawyers said that torture was legal, it is a dangerous and frankly fascist step to punish lawyers for legal advice you don’t like.

    Second, you are arguing that a book review proves torture. From the New York Times, no less, which isn’t terribly trustworthy, you know?

    Third, you are trusting the ICRC. According to the ICRC, holding a person indefinitely without trial is torture, so I guess every prisoner of war we have ever kept has been tortured, by definition. Or are you under the impression that when we entered WWII, and inevitably took some German soldiers prisoner, that we knew precisely when that war was going to end?

    Making a person uncomfortable is not torture. Waterboarding, if we strip away your knee-jerk hatred of all things Bush related, is close to the line and open for debate. To pretend that a close to the line and open for debate is EVIL, EVIL, EVIL!!! Is just silliness. It’s a difference of opinion.

    And, no, Bush and his administration never ordered beatings. But even if he did, is that torture? Hard to say. Let’s look at one statutory definition of it. At 18 USC 2340 it defines torture as:

    > (1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;

    > (2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—

    > > (A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;

    > > (B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;

    > > (C) the threat of imminent death; or

    > > (D) the threat that another person will [face torture as defined above]

    That was amended in 2007, so these are ex post definitions, and yet THEY STILL DON’T CLEARLY COVER THE CONDUCT YOU ACCUSE BUSH OF COMMITTING. For instance, what is “severe pain?” The statute gives no clear idea and in the United States we have this think called the doctrine of lenity that says that all ties go to the defendant.

    Is beatings covered? Then I guess the other day when Tommy beat up Billy on the playground, he “tortured” him. Give me a break.

    > no more phony debates

    By phony debates, I presume you mean “debates when someone disagrees with me and my stack of books.”

    > The essence of the rule of law is that no one is above the law.

    Well, I am sure you really said that when bill Clinton was perjuring himself and committing serial sexual harassment. Remember, Bush did what you denounce to protect us. Clinton did it because he was horny. Which is worse?

    And I am sure you felt the same way about putting Gietner the tax cheat in charge of Treasury.

    > An already substantial and growing body of credible evidence

    Including book reviews in democratic hack papers that are about to go into chapter 11!

    > The CIA has destroyed 92 hours of tapes of interrogations.

    Given the way the liberals have behaved like screaming monkeys over this, do you blame them?

    > painted as leftist political extremists out for revenge.

    No, not out for revenge. Out to criminalize political differences.

    > opting instead for a truth commission,

    You can’t handle the truth!

    > out of fear that the inevitable political backlash will destroy the Obama Administration.

    More like the rank hypocrisy involved. Obama has specifically reserve the right to carry out extraordinary rendition. If you can’t do it yourself, you can’t ask others to do it for you.

    > not, anyway, if we are committed to the rule of law.

    Wow, the pompous moralizing is getting pretty thick for a guy who wants to tar and feather lawyers for giving legal advice.

    > if proven true

    Wait! I thought a New York Times book review said it! What could be better evidence? And now you have doubts!

    > might be worse in degree and extent than other recent examples

    Um, being too zealous in defense of your country is worse than… what exactly? How recent is “recent?”

    > Those who suggest that such an investigation would be political have matters exactly upside-down:

    Riiight. Nothing political about tarring and feathering lawyers for giving legal advice you want. The fact it is being done to the lawyers for “Chimpy McHitler” (as I am sure you see him), has nothing to do with it. Um, exactly who do you think you are fooling?

    The fact you want to overreach so far based on a New York Times book review only tells me how much political fanaticism has to do with this.

    > To avoid the appearance of politics, the criminal investigation should be run outside the Department of Justice (as in the case of Scooter Libby),

    I love that bit of hypocrisy, too. Democrats loved the independent prosecutor law, until they discovered that it might apply to them. Then they finally let it die, only to demand an independent prosecutor every 20 seconds. Sheesh.

    And one more thing about your moralizing about the rule of law. I presume then you spoke out against the law giving Washington, D.C. the right to vote. I am sure you spoke out about geitner’s plan to seize companies in trouble, nevermind what the Supreme Court said in Youngstown. I am sure you spoke out about the Supreme Court of Iowa’s laughable ruling that gay marriage is constitutionally required. I am sure you spoke out against every lawless act done by the democrats, right?

    Of course not. Indeed, you surely haven’t spoke out about the Supreme Court’s lawless application of geneva convention rights to detainees who were clearly excluded by it. Because you LIKE that kind of lawlessness. Gut check? How about a mirror check, instead?

  17. A.W. says:

    Btw, Patty, I was so awash in fallacious comments coming from you, i missed one big whopper from you.

    > To avoid the appearance of politics, the criminal investigation should be run outside the Department of Justice (as in the case of Scooter Libby),

    Riiiiight, there was nothing political about that investigation. Let’s see here. Bush says the British said that Saddam was attempting to buy uranium from Africa.

    Wilson says (paraphrase), “he’s lying! I have no evidence that Saddam bought any uranium in Niger.” Of course there are two logical problems with Wilson’s reply. First, Bush didn’t allege Saddam actually bought anything, and he alleged it was happening in Africa, not just Niger. But it gets worse than that. Wilson’s investigation mainly composed of him going around Niger going “hey, did you sell Saddam any uranium”—not exactly the kind of investigation that can positively disprove the British claims, which by the way, they maintain to this day is true and a court has backed them up. And, by the way, we found several hundred tons of it in a facility hidden under a river. Further, we find out that when they went back and looked at Wilson actual report, Wilson’s report actually SUPPORTED the Bush administration claim. So his claim that his report proved Bush a liar was actually a lie.

    But, wait, it gets better. Then Robert Novak was talking to Richard Armitage off the record and Armitage pointed out what pro-Clinton a hack Wilson was, and Novak asked him the obvious question, “if he is a pro Clinton hack, why did you guys send him?” And the answer was, his wife recommended him. Novak prints all that and it is claimed that all of this was done in retaliation. See, supposedly Wilson’s wife was a regular Jane Bond, off on secret missions in other countries and under cover. Oh, except the truth was that she was a simple analyst driving through the front gate at Langley 5 days a week—not exactly deep cover, you know?

    But of course when it was revealed that Armitage was the leaker, all the Karl Rove conspiracy theories went up in smoke, because everyone knew Armitage wouldn’t do anything like that. And for some reason Armitage was never prosecuted under the various national secret laws, probably mainly because her identity was not so secret in the first place, or possibly because she hadn’t served overseas in the requisite 5 years.

    So then we get a prosecution of Libby… for lying to the investigators. Was he involved in the leak? Um, no. So, why throw him in jail all those years? Because he lied to an investigator in the investigation of something that ultimately couldn’t be shown to be a crime. And for that matter why talk to Libby at all? By all accounts Novak sung the moment he was on the stand; he immediately outted Armitage. So… once Fitzy knew who blabbed to Novak, why wasn’t the investigation over? Because like all special prosecutors, this guy overreached. Which is why they suck in the first place. So if Fitzy kept the investigation only to the actually alleged crime, which turned out apparently not to be a crime, then Libby wouldn’t have even been asked the questions that he allegedly lied about.

    Is that political then? Well, hard to say. You could imagine that Fitzy is just in love with power or something. But it did seem excessive which hardly immunizes it from a charge of political influence, now does it?

  18. Mike S says:

    My 52 months in federal BOP custody [I was in 8 institutions]exposed me to this subject, mostly anicdotally through prisoner discussions. Most prisoners placed in isolation learned their lesson, very few came out more rebelous, a couple ended up suicidal.

    For the few long term inmates (over 10 years incarcerated) I encountered, segregation was a change in the demoralizing routine of prison. Depending on the infraction, a change of cell block, mod, or dorm resulted. Sometimes a change of institution resulted.

    I observed no physical abuse. Psycholical twists occurred when good time credits,reading material, visitations, mail privilege, exercise sessions, lighting, meals, toiletries, and commissary were withheld.

    With 2.4 million incarcerated within the U.S. I am amazed at the attention given these few.

  19. kenhp1 says:

    While attending UNC-Chapel Hill two student, including myself, volunteered to be in solitary confinement as a class project and write about it. The term was 72 hours in solitary confinement.
    We were placed in a interior rooms without windows. There was a light hanging from the ceiling that was left on 24 hours a day. We were put in rooms where you could not tell if it was day or night.
    The first 24 hours went off without a hitch. Went to sleep and became totally disoriented after a while. No clock provided. All of a sudden the calm turned into the storm. I was unable to tell if it was light or dark outside. The meals were mixed to disorient you even more. Breakfast was served for dinner and so forth. After time with no human contact I began to panic.
    There was no idea how long I had been there or how much time was left. There were no books or anything to read, nothing to pass the time except staring at the four walls.
    I started to exercise, anything to keep myself busy to drown the silence and time of unknown.
    I went back to sleep, the only relaxing thing to do. Waking to silence and a tray on the floor with cold food.
    Time was even more distorted and panic and anxiety was almost unbearable.
    It was at this point I thought I would not make it. The walls began to get closer as if the room was shrinking my whole being began to tremble. I started to exercise again with even more vigor. Still, time was unknown and the hardest thing for me to gage and deal with, praying for the door to open so I could be released from my personal hell.
    The terrifying panic caused me to stop eating. My stomach was beginning to churn with anticipation of the door opening.
    I was finally feeling what solitary confinement was really like. It is hard to explain the emptiness you feel. Nothing to live for, no stimulation, no conversation, your brain begins to become numb. Ant small sound is actually startling
    and frightening to your very soul.
    After going back to sleep I awoke to trays being removed from my “cell”. A new tray of food had been placed there. It was actually warm. However, the numbness in your soul doesn’t really appreciate it.
    Finally, the door opened and I sprung out like a wild animal being let loose in the wild. I was truly scared, the light of day was hurting my eyes. My 72 hours of pure hell was over.
    It took four to five days to get back to normal. The depression lingered two to three weeks.
    However, after vacation I was finally back to normal.
    It still stays with me 23 years afterwards. The experience was not human.
    I can honestly attest to the fact I had rather be subjected to corporal punishment than go back through that. It could not be worse. The worse punishment ever is to take a human and void the mind and soul of any function. I hope people can understand it someday. It is the ultimate “cruel and unusual punishment”. To be given 50 licks with a leather strap to the backside would have been a much safer and sane punishment.