America’s Zombie Prison


Alcatraz – prisoners convicted in a court of law, more light, more space – than Gitmo

Why add to something that is not supposed to exist?

The something in question is the United States’ prison in Guantánamo Bay, for which the Pentagon recently requested $49 million in extra funding. Despite Barack Obama’s promise in 2009 – one of his first as President – to shut down “Gitmo,” the US evidently has no intention of doing so anytime soon. In fact, the only thing concerning Gitmo that the Obama administration has shut down is the office of the special envoy, Daniel Fried, who had been tasked with its closure. The US State Department reassigned Fried in late January, and he will not be replaced.

How better to memorialize that decision than with a building boom at the prison? The new facility for which the money is to be earmarked will house 106 prisoners (the precise number is uncertain) who have been neither tried nor charged.

Eight of the prisoners are now entering the second month of a hunger strike. According to the spokesman for the US Southern Command, which oversees Gitmo, the hunger strikers are disillusioned, because they believed Obama’s pledge to close Gitmo. Indeed, they are cleared to leave, and it is only Obama’s failure to keep his promise – and the US Congress’s failure to legislate their transfer – that is keeping them there…

One reason why the Pentagon needs to build a costly new facility has to do with the role of private contractors in driving detention policy. …The vast, often undocumentable profits that flow to these companies go a long way toward explaining why facilities like Gitmo – and privately owned and operated prisons in the US itself – never close. The transfer of public money to private corporations is far more attractive than old-fashioned market capitalism…

Then there is the brutality of the prison. I recently toured Alcatraz, the former US federal prison in San Francisco Bay. Like Gitmo, Alcatraz was created, in the 1930’s, to house what was then “the worst of the worst”…Yet I was struck by how much more humane the facility and regime at Alcatraz were compared to Gitmo.

For starters, prisoners at Alcatraz who broke rules or were violent were punished by being put in “D Block,” where the cells had no windows; at Gitmo, all the cells that journalists are shown lack windows or natural light. Solitary confinement in D Block was seen as the harshest punishment, and it was never used for more than 48 hours at a time. At Guantánamo – and in other US facilities – prisoners are placed in solitary confinement for days or weeks at a time…At Gitmo, contrary to Red Cross rules, prisoners may not receive visits or mail from family, their reading is dramatically curtailed, and news is censored. They are not even notified of the deaths of parents and children…

…How is it that a prison too brutal for gangsters, too un-American to house the worst of the worst, was more humane than a place that Americans are spending millions to enlarge?

Yet, President Obama has promised more than once to put an end to Gitmo. I still wait to hear something more than opportunism, wobbly inability to press a case for the United States to live up to internationally-accepted standards of justice.

Is your extra virgin olive oil screwing you?

Study finds fault with two-thirds of brands tested

More than two-thirds of common brands of extra-virgin olive oil found in California grocery stores aren’t what they claim to be, according to a report by researchers at UC Davis…

“This is only a beginning, but it’s a clear warning,” said Dan Flynn, executive director of UC Davis’ Olive Center. Noting that the U.S. is the third-largest consumer of olive oil in the world, he added, “We need to be monitoring what is being sold to the public.”…

The results were a combined effort of research conducted by scientists at UC Davis and at the Australian Oils Research Laboratory, a governmental research center accredited by the International Olive Council in Madrid, whose product standards the new U.S. Department of Agriculture rules are generally based upon.

Industry officials generally agree that the “extra-virgin” designation is proper for oil that is cold-processed to prevent degradation of aromatic compounds and has higher levels of healthful fats and antioxidants. It also has relatively low acidity levels — 0.8 grams per 100 grams or less, according to the international group.

And federal law bars a company from not disclosing on the label that it is selling a blend of oils. But a key problem in the U.S. is that the practice of labeling lower-quality olive oil as top-end — and charging a premium for it — is technically legal. The reason is simple: There are no federal rules that define what “virgin” or “extra-virgin” olive oil is. (The new USDA standards, which are voluntary, go into effect this fall.)…

Well, this is simple enough. I’ll just send out every bottle I buy for testing.

RTFA, please. I’m slashing major sections in the interest of brevity.

Related link: How brands fared