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At UN, ICP Asks Expert Mendez of US Prisons, Bahrain Banning, Chelsea Manning

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 22 -- When the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez came to the UN on Tuesday, Inner City Press asked him about delays on his request to visit prisons in the United States, and how these compared to the banning of his visit by Bahrain, a US ally.

  Mendez said to visit prison, or Guantanamo Bay, he needs to be able to visit all parts and speak with inmates, but that the US refuses.

  In fact, he said, his request on prisons -- the Federal ADX in Colorado and state prisons in California, New York and Pennsylvania -- has been pending at the US State Department since May 18, 2013, with no response.

  He said there is pervasive use of solitary confinement, characterized as "prison management" rather than discipline. This way, he said, the US courts don't require due process.

  There are some who think that the US Federal court system is enough of a protector of rights, or in any event, more protective than, say, the UN.

  But in this case, Mendez is pointing at a loophole allowed the US courts, as long as the authorities use the magic words, "Prison management." (A review of FISA courts would likewise be useful -- we ask about that soon.)

On Bahrain, Mendez said the situation is not static, and not necessarily getting better - call that diplomacy.

  There were questions that were not able to be asked, for example about flogging and amputations in Saudi Arabia. But time did not permit. This is another reason that the UN automatically giving the first question to the UN Correspondents Association's Executive Committee is a bad idea: the questions are predictable and skew and politicize the press conferences.

As so often happens, particularly in 2012 and now in 2013 under Pamela Falk of CBS, UNCA used the first question to ask about Syria. (They hosted Saudi sponsored Syria rebel Ahmad al Jarba for a faux UN briefing in July.) The second question was on Cuba and Iran.

  Only after was Inner City Press, after counter-thanking for the new Free UN Coalition for Access @FUNCA_info, able to ask about the United States, the elephant in the room. (Upstairs, the UN has threatened to suspend or withdraw Inner City Press' accreditation for merely hanging a FUNCA sign on the door to its shared office, when UNCA has five signs.)

   Even during this follow-up on US jails, a long-time UNCA-ite tried to cut off Inner City Press' question, then insisted on referring to Bradley rather than Chelsea Manning.

  Mendez to his credit said, "now Chelsea Manning," and referred to solitary confinement conditions. His fellow panelist Claudio Grossman spoke of the need for norms, for statistics, for the right to appeal. Malcolm Evans of the SPT said his sub-committee's work is confidential; that cut off most questions.

  It was noteworthy that the UN's chosen press corps representative was more one-sided and politicized than the UN officials or expert themselves, particularly Mendez. We will continue to follow and report on this work, particularly but not only on US prisons and Bahrain. Watch this site.


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