Late last week two young Grand Jury resisters were released from the Federal Prison near Seattle, Washington. They had been imprisoned since September for refusing to answer a Grand Jury’s questions. The Grand Jury’s initial charge was to investigate politically motivated vandalism at demonstrations, but it quickly degenerated into a witch hunt designed to terrorize communities of young anarchists in the Pacific Northwest. Supporters have maintained steady pressure for the detainees’ release on both the District Attorney and the Judge who were responsible for the resister’s imprisonment.
Under our Grand Jury system, witnesses who refuse to testify can be held in “civil detention” indefinitely for as long as the Grand Jury is continuing its investigation. This imprisonment is not supposed to be punitive, since non-cooperators have not even been charged, much less convicted, of a crime. Instead it is supposed to coerce them into testifying.
Judge Richard Jones’ decision to release the two young people included the following paragraph:
“Both Ms. Olejnik and Mr. Duran have provided extensive declarations explaining that although they wish to end their confinement, they will never end their confinement by testifying. The court finds their declaration persuasive. They have submitted to five months of confinement, for a substantial portion of that confinement, they have been held in the special housing unit of the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac, during which they have had no contract with other detainees, very little contact even with prison staff, and exceedingly limited ability to communicate with the outside world. … Their physical health has deteriorated sharply and their mental health has also suffered from the effects of solitary confinement. Their confinement has cost them; they have suffered the loss of jobs, income, and important personal relationships…. For these witnesses, however, their resolve appears to increase as their confinement continues.”
[You can learn more about their release here or read the Judge's statement here]
The circumstances the Judge describes don’t surprise me, but I still find his statement astounding. I can’t remember ever having read a more concise self-indictment by a Judge. Who the hell does this Judge think is responsible for the deterioration suffered by these witnesses? Such isolation is considered torture under international standards. Who is guilty of what, here? Two young people are guilty of keeping their mouths shut, but the Judge and Prosecutor have facilitated torture.
And what makes it worse is that this incident could serve as a metaphor for a sickness that infects our judicial process. Throughout our State and Federal systems, Prosecutors’ advocacy and Judges’ sentencing condemn enormous numbers of prisoners to years of torture in Super Max Prisons and Communication Management Units. Our system is rotten to core, from the Judge in the Manning case who thinks a slap on the wrist is all the military authorities deserve for their torment of the defendant, to the Judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals who utter no peep of complaint that the author of one of the Bush administrations’ memos justifying torture is now a fellow Justice of their Circuit.
How can you blame Matt Duran and Katherine Olejnik for wanting no part of this system?
To receive a notification whenever there is a new post to Out on a Limb Together, subscribe now.