Award-winning Investigative Journalist Robert Parry (1949-2018)

Award-winning investigative journalist and founder/editor of, Robert Parry has passed away. His ground-breaking work uncovering Reagan-era dirty wars in Central America and many other illegal and immoral policies conducted by successive administrations and U.S. intelligence agencies, stands as an inspiration to all in journalists working in the public interest.

Robert had been a regular guest on our Between The Lines and Counterpoint radio shows -- and many other progressive outlets across the U.S. over four decades.

His penetrating analysis of U.S. foreign policy and international conflicts will be sorely missed, and not easily replaced. His son Nat Parry writes a tribute to his father: Robert Parry’s Legacy and the Future of Consortiumnews.

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JEREMY SCAHILL: Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker "Dirty Wars"

Listen to the full interview (30:33) with Jeremy Scahill, an award-winning investigative journalist with the Nation Magazine, correspondent for Democracy Now! and author of the bestselling book, "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," about America's outsourcing of its military. In an exclusive interview with Counterpoint's Scott Harris on Sept. 16, 2013, Scahill talks about his latest book, "Dirty Wars, The World is a Battlefield," also made into a documentary film under the same title, and was nominated Dec. 5, 2013 for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary Feature category.

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Prisoner Hunger Strike in California Protests Solitary Confinement

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Posted Oct. 5, 2011

Interview with Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


This week, 4,200 inmates in California prisons are on hunger strike, many in solidarity with prisoners at the Pelican Bay super-maximum security facility. Prisoners at Pelican Bay conducted an earlier hunger strike over the summer, but called it off when they believed prison officials would grant some of their demands.

Their demands included: ending group punishment and administrative abuse; abolishing the debriefing policy, which pressures inmates to provide information on the gang status of fellow inmates; ending long-term solitary confinement; providing adequate and nutritious food; and offering constructive programming and privileges for those held indefinitely in Supermax custody.

When it became apparent that prison officials would not enact substantive changes, prisoners began a second hunger strike on Sept. 29, and were joined by inmates at other state prisons across California, through a method of communication supporters on the outside either don't know or aren't talking about. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project. She discusses the inhumane conditions at Pelican Bay, with a focus on the solitary confinement, considered by Amnesty International and other groups to be a form of torture.

AMY FETTIG: This protest arises from a number of things, but its chief concern is extended solitary confinement for – not months, not years, but sometimes decades – for men that are almost completely isolated from other human beings, who are kept in almost complete idleness so they have nothing to do, nothing to fill their time, and have no way to actually get out of the conditions they are subject to. They can't earn their way out; they're basically trapped in this limbo state with no means to solve their problems other than to try to get the world to pay greater attention by starving themselves.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Is this how all of them are treated in the super max? I remember when the super max prisons came on line several years ago, that was one of their defining characteristics, right, the prisoners are kept in solitary confinement all the time?

AMY FETTIG: Yes, on average for 23, 24 hours a day of complete social isolation. This means you don't get to interact with other human beings; you have your meals in your cell; you rarely leave your cell; you rarely have access to visiting anyone; and when you go outside for what may be called recreation, you are in a cage by yourself. So that is a level of isolation that is almost impossible for the average American to even imagine.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Amnesty International and many other groups, including mental health professionals, have defined this as torture.

AMY FETTIG: Yes, as have bodies in the United Nations. In fact, all the research that has been done for years and decades has found that these types of conditions impact human beings in extreme ways. For folks who have mental illness to begin with, this will no doubt cause that individual to become sicker and sicker. But conditions of extreme isolation also have incredible impacts on individuals who came into the system without mental illness; it literally makes you mentally ill. So there's some real questions about subjecting individuals to this type of isolation, especially when we're looking at not days or months, but years and even decades.

BETWEEN THE LINES: How many people are we talking about? You were talking about them starving themselves to death, but I'm sure before things got that far, they would be force-fed, no? Did that happen in the first round of the hunger strike earlier this year?

AMY FETTIG: You know, I'm not aware if it got that far in the last round. The initial round was three weeks, and the policy would be to force feed an individual before he or she actually expired; however, you get to a real state of degradation in your health when you're talking about starving yourself for such a long time. So these are very risky things to do; they're causing a great deal of harm, but I think you have to look at what the options are for these prisoners, especially now. Back in July, they reached out to prison officials, they went on strike, it looked like there would be some real negotiations, and what we can see from this next strike is that prisoners felt they weren't being listened to, they weren't being dealt with fairly, and they had no other options.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Amy Fettig, has Gov. Jerry Brown weighed in on this at all? In his first stint as governor in the 1970s, he was avowedly liberal with a spiritual streak. It seems like these conditions wouldn't sit well with him.

AMY FETTIG: AF: I don't know that he has expressed an opinion, quite frankly, but I would hope, as the leader of the state and someone who's engaged in prison reform, given the problems that are now endemic in the California system, that he would take a real interest in this because it's a red flag. It should tell all officials in California that there's something wrong with their prisons and they need to take action.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Pelican Bay is a super max, but the hunger strike has spread to other facilities that are not super max. If someone isn't already in isolation and starts resisting state authority by going on a hunger strike, are they then put into isolation?

AMY FETTIG: My understanding is that prison officials are now saying they are going to crack down on the hunger strikers, whether they're in Pelican Bay or another facility; that essentially they're going to get tough now. And I would say that's exactly the wrong reaction to have. Rather than sitting down and engaging in good faith negotiations and realizing that dozens of prisoners don't start starving themselves to death for no reason. That this is a time to take serious action and reflect on their policies and procedures here, rather than burying their head in the sand yet further. They need to change the way they do business. And frankly, other states already have. Using long-term isolation has, unfortunately, become a pervasive practice in this country. However, increasingly states are recognizing not only does it yield bad results because it has detrimental psychological impacts on people when they're released to the community; they have higher recidivism rates, and frankly it costs 200 percent to 300 percent more to hold people in these types of prisons. So it's really a lose-lose. And what we're seeing in places like Mississippi, Colorado, the state of Maine, New Mexico, is that state legislators are taking a second look at what has been happening in corrections, because it's costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars and it's producing lousy results. And on top of that, it's inhumane.

For more information on the California prisoner hunger strike and a petition calling for an end to extended solitary confinement visit

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