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"

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California Prisoner Hunger Strike Demanding End to Long-term Solitary Confinement Exceeds 50 Days

Posted Aug. 28, 2013

Interview with Isaac Ontiveros, a spokesman with the Prison Hunger Strikers Solidarity Coalition, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


On July 8, an estimated 30,000 inmates in the California prison system began a hunger strike, with the goal of ending the common practice of years-long solitary confinement. More than 50 days later, a number of prisoners remain on hunger strike, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recently received authorization from a federal judge to begin force-feeding inmates. The United Nations has declared that prisoners held in solitary confinement for more than 15 days constitutes a form of torture.

The prisoners’ five core demands are: end group punishment and administrative abuse; abolish the debriefing policy, and modify active/inactive gang status criteria; comply with the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement; provide adequate and nutritious food and expand and provide constructive programming and privileges for indefinite secure housing unit status inmates.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Isaac Ontiveros, a spokesman for the Prison Hunger Strikers Solidarity Coalition. He explains that this latest action was the result of unfulfilled agreements made with hunger striking prisoners two years earlier and that the strike, initially launched at the Pelican Bay Secure Housing Unit, has now spread to many other prisons across the state.

ISAAC ONTIVEROS: The demands – the prisoners have had the same five demands the last two years – the most important demand for your listeners is an end to California's use of indefinite solitary confinement. The California prison system can throw somebody in solitary indefinitely. There are over 500 people in California who have been in solitary confinement for over 10 years; many of those have been in for over 20 years, some 30, some 40 years. The U.N. says that a day over 15 days in solitary is torture, so you can imagine what it's like to be in solitary for 15, 20, 30 years. Their second most important demand is an end to the arbitrary, draconian and thoroughly unaccountable process by which the prison administration targets prisoners for solitary confinement and then what a prisoner has to do to get out of solitary confinement. That's what they'll call the validation process. It's very important to understand that when a prisoner is thrown into solitary confinement, it's not like there's a trial, it's not like the prisoner can defend themselves. There's no due process whatsoever, so this is arbitrary and administrative.

The third demand is an end to group punishment, also known as collective punishment. A simple way to understand that is, for example, a guard will have a problem with a particular prisoner, and then will punish an entire group of prisoners based on their problem with an individual. More often (than not), that punishment is race-based. Prisoners are calling for an end to that. They're also calling for the provision of adequate and nutritious food. And finally, they're calling for access to programs and services, especially for people that are in solitary confinement indefinitely, and these things can be as simple as access to things like colored pencils or a calendar, but also stuff that actually has to do with their rehabilitation, so access, for example, to educational programs.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You said the prisoners don't want to starve to death, but recently a court ruled that the prisoners on hunger strike in California can be force fed. Can you say more about that?

ISAAC ONTIVEROS: Last week, a court order was signed by a federal judge saying the prison medical system could force-feed prisoners. It also said that it could disregard prisoners' advance medical directives, so you know, any human beings who live in the U.S., you have a certain amount of rights and autonomy over what kind of medical procedures you are subjected to, and you can put those in writing, especially if you know you will be falling ill. Prisoners certainly have that civil and human right. The disturbing part of this order is that it disregards that right.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Are any prisoners actually being force fed now?

ISAAC ONTIVEROS: Not at this time. We hope it doesn't need to come to that. All the CDCR would have to do, all the governor would have to do is sit down and have good faith discussions with the prisoners about their demands.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Gov. Jerry Brown has taken bold steps to protect the public water and energy supplies generated in Yosemite National Park, where a forest fire is raging, but as far as I know, he, who is a former seminarian, hasn't said a word about prison conditions or the hunger strike.

ISAAC ONTIVEROS: Jerry Brown has not made a single comment about the hunger strike. I think his silence is cowardly and it makes him complicit in the violence that the CDCR is perpetuating against these prisoners. I think if any of these prisoners lose their life, blood is on his hands.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Juan Mendez, the UN rapporteur on torture, has said that anything more than 15 days of solitary confinement is torture, and he has asked to visit the hunger strikers, but as far as I know he has not yet received permission.

ISAAC ONTIVEROS: You know, obviously it's not surprising to me that the CDCR would try to hide their practices of torture, so they claim they don't exist. You listen to the CDCR ad they say these conditions, it's like staying at a four-star hotel. I think that those things would be laughable if they weren't so dangerous. I think that people putting pressure on the California government – not just the CDCR, but the governor or California's [legislative] public safety committees and saying, Let's let this UN official come take a look. I think that could be a positive step. I think, though, that anything that happens like that it needs to be understood that time is of the essence. Prisoners have been on strike for 50 days; the toll that it's taking on their bodies should be obvious that if you don't eat for 50 days there are serious, serious health repercussions.

The Prison Hunger Strikers Solidarity Coalition is asking supporters to contact the chairs of the California legislature's Public Safety Committee to call a special session to hold the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation accountable for the treatment of the hunger strikers and to meet with them over their demands. For more information on the prisoners’ hunger strike, visit

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