Weekend Conference On Prisoner Torture By JUDITH SCHERR

Special to the Planet
Friday April 22, 2005

On Sept. 13, 1971, a four-day revolt against abominable prison conditions ended with police and guards storming Attica State Prison, killing 32 inmates and 11 corrections officers. At Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, U.S. military and private prison guards have tortured prisoners. In Dublin, Calif., and other federal prisons around the country, inmates known for political activism have been convicted for alleged criminal acts. Political prisoners—some charged as criminals, many not charged at all—sit in jails in Palestine, the Philippines, Haiti and elsewhere.  

The United States’ role in supporting the criminalization of political activities must stop, says Kali Akuna, an organizer with the conference “Attica to Abu Ghraib” that begins tonight at 6 p.m. at St. Joseph the Worker Church, 1640 Addison St. with a keynote address by Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Georgia.  

The conference, which continues Saturday at Barrows Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, is the beginning of a movement to let the U.S. government know “there’s a base that’s not going to tolerate its attempts to legitimatize torture as standard operating procedure,” Akuna said. (Barrows Hall is just north of Heart Gym near Bowditch Street and Bancroft Way.)  

Various panels on political prisoners, torture and the U.S. government role begin at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and continue all day. 

Organizations have been working in isolation on political prisoner and torture issues, Akuna said. This is an opportunity to bring the groups together and create a powerful movement, they say. There are political prisoners in almost every country. “They are denied political prison status,” Akuna said. 

United States’ prisoner abuse at home is not well known, said Judith Mirk, another conference organizer. 

“For 50 years the U.S. has been isolating prisoners, locking them up for 24 hours a day,” she said. Isolation is just one form of torture. Using Guantanamo as an example, the U.S. is “trying to make the idea of torture acceptable,” she added.  

The conference will “expose what’s going on and make the connections,” Mirk said, noting that this weekend’s gathering is just the beginning. A Day of International Solidarity with Political Prisoners is already planned for Dec. 3.  

For more information on the conference, go to www.attica2abughraib.com or call (415) 273-4608 or (510) 593-3956.