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Assange and the assurances of ‘civilised’ torturers

15 7 6
30.11.2021

In persisting with its campaign to have Wikileaks founder Julian Assange extradited from the United Kingdom, the US continues to expose its own systemic crimes.

The “assurances” of humane treatment now issued by the United States government – currently under consideration by the UK High Court – testify to the horrors otherwise routinely inflicted by America’s mass incarceration state.

For instance, the US has said that it will spare Assange from internment in ADX Florence: the federal super-max built to keep hundreds of prisoners in almost total isolation for years on end, in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. (In fact, this may be a more devastating form of torture than physical methods, since the brain is turned into a weapon against itself.)

However, nothing in the assurances protects Assange from being placed in a Communications Management Unit – in some ways even more restrictive than a supermax – as drone whistleblower Daniel Hale was last month.

The US has also vowed to ensure access to “any clinical and psychological treatment” that prison doctors recommend – Assange’s risk of suicide having been deemed the only bar to his extradition in a previous British court decision.

This is questionable comfort from the American prison-medical industrial complex, in which “care” is often the continuation of punishment by other means: isolated segregation in “psychiatric services units”; naked confinement under constant surveillance in “suicide watch” cells; “therapy” delivered to patients locked in phone booth-sized “treatment cages”.

In addition, the US has pledged not to subject Assange to the exceptionally draconian solitary confinement regime of Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) – unless, that is, “he was to commit any future act that met the test for the imposition of a SAM”.

One of the paradigmatically Kafkaesque features of SAMs – which, in the words of a report from Yale Law School and the Center for Constitutional Rights, “seal off the prisoner from the outside world and shield his treatment from public scrutiny(PDF)” – is that the state does not need to reveal its reasons for imposing them.

In cases such as that of Fahad Hashmi – extradited from the UK and convicted by the US of “material support for terrorism,” for allowing an acquaintance to use his cellphone and leave a suitcase of rain ponchos and socks at his apartment – pre-trial SAMs appear to have been applied to break the target’s resistance to submitting a guilty plea.

Other previous cases of Muslims extradited from the UK to the US on “terrorism” charges illuminate how assurances – which are both unverifiable and unenforceable – have served as a humanitarian shield for abuse; plausible deniability behind a screen of compassion and........

© Al Jazeera


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